All posts by Chris

Anger is in a Hurry

When life seems it could not possibly get weirder, history is there to show us some things change while others do not.

Many of us cleave to reason. Okay, some of us.

Humans will never operate in a completely rational way. Nevertheless, the goal of seeking knowledge is critical. Beginning from an inquisitive starting point instead of overblown, unwarranted confidence. Developing openness to hearing, learning, and adjusting. Maintaining our willingness to pay attention, to find something out, and to alter our thinking, even when it is uncomfortable.

That is some of us.

The world has always known petty, angry people. In ancient times, they simply did not have Twitter accounts.

About 2000 years ago, Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, delved into the topic of anger. In his work Of Anger, he said this:

“Reason gives each side time to plead; moreover, she herself demands adjournment, that she may have sufficient scope for the discovery of the truth; whereas anger is in a hurry: reason wishes to give a just decision; anger wishes its decision to be thought just: reason looks no further than the matter in hand; anger is excited by empty matters hovering on the outskirts of the case … It often condemns a man because it dislikes his patron; it loves and maintains error even when truth is staring it in the face. It hates to be proved wrong, and thinks it more honourable to persevere in a mistaken line of conduct than to retract it.”

Do you know any people who love and maintain error even when truth stares them in the face?

How about anyone who, “hates to be proved wrong, and thinks it more honourable to persevere in a mistaken line of conduct than to retract it”?

I can think of a few people. Watch any press conferences lately? I picture an angry man with a shovel digging a deeper and deeper hole out of which to shout.

Speaking of shouting, Seneca also wrote this:

“Irascibility, I say, has this fault—it is loath to be ruled: it is angry with the truth itself, if it comes to light against its will: it assails those whom it has marked for its victims with shouting and riotous noise and gesticulation of the entire body, together with reproaches and curses.”

Seneca serves us best in helping us pull back from the present cascade of media, debate, and argument. He shows us that, first, human nature goes little changed for millennia. Second, calm consideration—taking time to discover the truth—leads to reasoned and rational response.

Some people will never, ever move toward rational thought. They will not make the effort because there is no point. Nothing is wrong with how they think or behave. Rousing quickly to anger is something they do well, a strategy that maintains their confidence.

None of this matters.

We make better decisions—including how we respond to irrational, angry people—when we take that step back. It is not a matter of being nice and kind (although those are good habits). It is a matter of best positioning yourself to excel. To win arguments, make better points, or raise somewhat well-adjusted children.

It is not about deciding which side we are on in every discussion and sticking to our guns—or words. Our daily goal should be thus: Check in with ourselves when we sense we may have become overconfident in our position. Notice whether we hate being proved wrong so much that reason cannot get through our defenses. People who seek growth and progress can do this. They are the ones able to think nimbly, grasp many points of view, and open their minds to alternatives.

Remember: “Reason wishes to give a just decision.”

We owe it to our communities and each other to see reason through.

It Came Gleaming Into View

He is a chicken police officer and I am a raccoon. Same job title. We are patrolling a construction site at night. What was that strange noise from behind the cement mixer? We should investigate.

Those with less imagination would notice it is broad daylight on a sunny afternoon in our back yard

In a thirty-minute span, my son might be a cop chicken, a fire truck, and a stegosaurus.

That was just yesterday.

Jakey tells great stories. Some derive from books he has read blended with favorite kids shows. Others are wholly his own creation.

This May he told an elaborate story where he used the phrase, “It came gleaming into view.” I knew I had never said something like that to him and I liked the way it sounded. It tickled Heather and she even wrote it along the top of our dry-erase calendar. It stuck with us.

I Googled the phrase.

In 1847 the writer George Lippard published a book titled Washington and his generals. or, Legends of the revolution.

On page 489, Google found this sentence:

“At last, a sail came gleaming into view–then the hull of a man-o-war–and then, bright and beautiful upon the morning air, fluttered the glorious emblem of Hope and Promise–the Tri-colored Flag of France.”

I will assume, for the time being, my son has not read this book. Same goes for the ebook crime novel from last year describing some vehicles gleaming into view. That line also located, conveniently, via Google search.

Jakey’s tale was an original construction. That phrase is something he came up with for himself even if it is not unique across all time.

It caught my ear because it was different. The writer Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) prides himself on putting words together in unexpected ways, sometimes even giving a reader pause. Interviewer Julie Krug said his style “includes breaking down sentences and rearranging them so they don’t ring ordinary in the reader’s ear.”

Many consider his a lyrical style. That is a great description. Like so many artists, the urge to describe his style may serve to help readers or critics, but means little to him.

In this interview, Doerr said, “I just make the thing I want to make. I love surprising language, and I like sentences that disrupt combinations of words readers are accustomed to seeing. If that’s what people call lyrical, that’s perfectly fine by me, but it doesn’t affect the way I work one way or another.”

My son creates stories that suit him. He sets a scene and fills it with drama, with action sequence after action sequence. Adventures come together the way he wants. He not only bends reality. Literally anything is possible.

Parents want a lot of different outcomes for their kids. We hope they will become certain things. But, we also try to pull back enough to allow them to grow into themselves. If my son could keep being interesting and interested in the world that would go a long way. If he also remains kind, that will cover most of the bases.

I don’t know if he will be a writer when he gets older, but his love for creation will serve him well in anything. I remind myself all the time to Yes and him when he floats ideas for new kinds of play. Each scenario just has to be awesome and engaging. It does not need filtered through my grown-up gauge of sense-making and possibility. A continual lesson for me. When I’m the raccoon cop and he’s the chicken I don’t necessarily need to mention that I might eat him before we go look into the noise behind the imaginary crane truck. I just tiptoe down the hill with him and we battle the dinosaurs trying to steal the construction equipment. Easy as that.

Seth Godin writes in this blog post about thinking along the edges.

In his book Linchpin, he said, “Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.” This is an update to the oft-remarked-upon outside-the-box thinker mantra. Just getting to the edges of how one usually looks at a situation is transformative. Another good goal. Regurgitation and rigidity will take someone fewer places nowadays than ever before.

Seeking novel approaches, lateral thinking, thriving during constant change…

Talk about things to want for your kid.

There is a long period of discomfort and experimentation before someone’s creative rule breaking becomes part of a lesson plan, part of the literary canon. Most of us will not reach that position. However, in the time between learning to speak in words and literary immortality is the long stretch of delighting in storytelling for its sake. There lies a lifetime of novel ideas available to us in our chosen pursuits. There lies questioning—politely or otherwise—the status quo when all it has going for it is that’s how it’s been done before.

Jakey crafts his stories and chooses interesting words. He tries out new combinations and many of them sound off to me. Off in the way I love because they make me think about what he means by his choices, what he is trying to show.

There is a world out there for our kids to create. Sad fact, there is also a part of that world set up to squash or limit their creativity. If it helps for me to serve as a raccoon police officer and fire imaginary arrows into a many-headed monster that looks to me like nothing more than the fir tree in our back yard, count me in. If I can foster creative confidence to think along the edges, I will be there, loosing my arrows at the sky.

The future belongs to those who welcome it when it comes gleaming into view.

Remember that time…

A conversation my four-year-old son does not have with his friend from preschool:

“Hey Zachy, remember that time you smashed me in the face with a bucket?”

“What’s that you say, Jakey?”

“Yeah, it was a bucket.”

“Ummm…”

“You were spinning around holding it at arm’s length, just going around and around and around.”

“A bucket?”

“For real, dude. I guess I got too close. Anyway, BAM! I take it right in the face. Nosebleed, big scrape, the whole deal. I got one black eye and I don’t breathe so well through my nose just yet. See how it’s blueish green and kinda puffy?”

“Maybe a little purple, too.”

“Exactly! Now you’re feelin’ me!”

“A bucket? Yikes.”

“Right?”

T-Rex eats fox, or vice versa: Imagination and HOW THINGS ARE

“Dad, I’m a T-Rex and you are a tiny baby fox.”

I fear he has stacked the odds heavily in his favor.

Although, you never can tell. In his land of imagination polar bears still eat seals, yes. Just the same, sometimes seals go out on the ice floes hunting polar bears.

What follows is a fraught encounter with much wrestling and snarling, the slashing of pretend claws and gnashing of feigned teeth.

Laws of nature do not bind us. Creativity requires no adherence to truisms from the animal kingdom or even physics for that matter.

We can fly. We can be tiny. Or we can be, as my son (and the president) might say, “Very, very, very big.”

Cars may sprout Lego wings and also serve as boats. Giraffes or cats might pilot those craft.

Storybook worlds overlap, wrapping our play in vivid story lines reminiscent of scenes in books, fairy-tales, and the stories we make up.

I laugh a lot.

Except when I’m being eaten by a T-Rex or a seal.

These games show me how rigid the adult mind becomes compared to his free-flowing, mind-wandering creativity unbound by decades of viewing HOW THINGS ARE in the world around me. As I play along, I am always recalibrating on the fly what makes sense in my head to fit with our games. I’m reconciling what I know—or think I know—about the animal kingdom and driving cars and spaceflight.

This never makes me yearn for him to grow up. Instead I want to preserve every moment, every drop of his willingness to play, to create, to make up any thing that his mind conjures, simple or grand.

Because HOW THINGS ARE is little more than illusion anyway. Just the world poorly interpreted and fit into a construct less accurate than we imagine. A box that fits well enough, but not quite right. I think the people who shift paradigms and create the most amazing things are not necessarily better at understanding exactly how our world works, but better at looking past our habit of putting things in boxes. When it comes to how everything ought to be, they put on blinders, focus on possibility. More WHAT IF than HOW-TO.

One day my son may learn that seals don’t—under normal circumstances—prey on fully grown polar bears. My question: How can I help him grow up to make these discoveries without losing the wonder? The sense of possibility. How does he keep his mind flexible instead of brittle and bound by the typical? Plastic instead of rigid?

That is for each of us to figure out, I guess.

Right now he is a T-Rex.

And I am a tiny baby fox.

They Only Go Faster—2016 Year in Review and a Wish

I was a freshman in college.

I remarked to my teammate, Joal, on how quickly my year was flying past. (We were riding in the back of a U-Haul, long story…). Joal was a senior, sage and kind. Early on, he had taken me under his wing. He smiled—I remember it as a wistful sort of smile—and said, “They only go faster.”

Those words stuck.

They do only go faster. Year after year as if time has stepped onto one of those people conveyors at the airport. I like to walk on those when I have a clear shot so I can see how fast I pass the regular, non-moving-walkway travelers when I keep hustling like I’m late for a flight. Sometimes I am late for a flight. More often, though, it’s the thrill of speed. There’s really nothing like walking at the velocity of a solid jog with the comparative effort of a brisk stroll.

Things change fast. I now have to run to keep up with Jakey on his bike going down the long, gradual hill near our house. It used to be monotonous to pace beside him. Now it’s hard to keep up. And Emily now walks nearly as fast as she can crawl. Give it another week.

Today has been a fantastic end to 2016.

After breakfast, our family took a bundled-up walk on a 35-degree morning. We made the regular stops. The neighborhood chickens were in full pecking, exploring action in their enclosure. One brown hen chased a small black bird back and forth along the ground. I watched my son poke his grandpa-made walking stick into streams and puddles with investigatory vigor. And my daughter mouthed a hunk if cheese stick into oblivion while taking in all the sights from her stroller.

By noon, we were shoulders deep in the community swimming pool. They raised the water temp for the winter. Finishing an extended soak with no shivers was a welcome change. Jakey and I made five water slide laps before Heather and I swapped kiddos and she took him on a few more rides.

Later, at lunch, Heather mentioned the baby was much easier to hold in the water. So true. I’ve thrown my back out once in the past month after picking her up off the ground wrong, no thought to her growth or what my lumbar region could bear.

With a whole year past, I turn to reflection about where the days and months took me.

Because you know what? They do go faster, but I find there is more and more I’m excited about packed into each new year. This is the real adventure.

Here are some of my favorites over the past twelve months:

Books (Fiction):

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This was both a recommendation and a loan from my friend Daniel. It is beloved and award-winning for good reason. The way it came up in our conversation was great. Heather and I had recently had the second baby and sleep was both elusive and interrupted. I had mentioned not being able to make much progress in my fiction reading because I fell asleep so fast each night. Daniel suggested this one with its dozens of short chapters, many only a page and a half long. He said I might make it a chapter or two in a night and feel better about my accomplishment. So true.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A gift from another good friend. I sometimes like to go into a book cold without reading the back cover. This meant I had no idea I was diving into a post-apocalyptic yarn with great characters and strong prose. What luck, then. Done well, this is one of my favorite genres. I have been digging into what it is I like about these speculative worlds after a cataclysmic event. More on that later.

(I also reread The Old Man and the Sea with more of an eye on style than I had in high school. Beautiful in its spare language and the way it allows me to see, feel, and taste the experience on his small boat.)

Books (Nonfiction):

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

A fantastic and motivating manual for how you communicate with everyone in your life and the high standard you hold yourself to.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The mind is unsurprisingly complex. But, the author shares story after story and study after study about the ways our brains and decision-making work. More important, we can discover the way our brains sometimes work against us reaching our goals.

Favorite Photos by Me (of subjects other than my children):

Apparently a year of light and color. I’m lucky to live where I live and to do what I do. Something I try to remind myself of often. Just as often, my surroundings and relationships remind me.

Favorite Photos (of my children):

My favorite subjects, hands down.

Favorite Purchase:

My son’s first globe. Now we can look at where places are and he can begin to grasp the complexities of this big, mostly round rock we live on. So far, he can find Oregon. That’s a start. Jakey and I talk a lot about places and animals from all around the world. Months ago I taped a National Geographic map up in his room, but the flat situation and stretched aspect of maps was missing something.

Vacations:

Cannon Beach

Huge spring storm, a power outage during dinner, and one of Jakey’s favorite trips of all time. The simple pleasures of a hotel room and heated pool go far with a three year-old.

Camping

Wilderness, family, and best friends. Good food, lots of laughs, and quiet moments in nature’s solitude. I do some of my best relaxing and best brainstorming on camping trips each year.

Canada

The guest ranch is woven into the fabric of my wife’s life. This many years in, I feel just as attached to the return trip each summer. Jakey can take the pig bowl to the pen himself now. How did this happen so quickly? Horseback rides, card games, paddles and swims in the lake, and delectable meals cooked on an old fashioned wood stove. All while gloriously disengaged from internet, television, and cell reception.

Activities around the house:

Imagination time with my son pretending to be all kinds of animals both real and imaginary.

A few highlights:

  • Buffalo
  • Dinosaurs
  • Hippopotamuses
  • Cheetahs
  • Wolves
  • Platypuses
  • Foxes
  • Sharks
  • Dragons
  • Whales
  • Polar Bears
  • Seals
  • Hawks
  • Eagles
  • Crows

Sports and Exercise (my own):

4 obstacle course races and one big swim meet in 2016. The real thrill is in the hundreds of trail miles alone with the forest and my thoughts, as well as the pool and weight room sessions, the stretching, the rolling out, the lifestyle.

Competition had its highlights, too:

  • Running a Spartan Super race with my high school buddy Chad and getting to catch up with him and his wife over the race weekend.

  • Running my first Spartan Beast. I finished in the top 8% overall not because I’m a particularly fast runner. What I had going for me: I trained for the obstacles and for hills. Most important, though, I committed to myself that I wouldn’t walk and followed through. Discomfort is a tool. Athletics plumb the depths of our willingness to suffer at our own hands.

  • Swimming the butterfly leg of a 200 medley relay for the Oregon team at Masters Nationals and winning our event. I finished in the top 10 in three individual races and left pleased with my times and stoked about all the great people I got to visit with from across the country including former teammates I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.

Sports and Exercise (my team):

Several years ago one of our women’s team captains brought up what a tremendous privilege it was for them to be part of our collegiate swimming program. She felt keeping that in mind would frame both her own experience and that of her teammates’.

But, the privilege belongs to the coaches, as well. I spend so much time in the presence of students learning, growing, excelling, and amazing me on a daily basis.

Last season finished well and right now we’re two thirds of our way through a great season with the biggest team I’ve had in 10 years at L&C.

I won’t play favorites. Or pick a favorite race, for in fact there are hundreds of favorites. But, the big moments of life are not always the “big” race at the “big” meet. They come in epic workout swims, in people surprising themselves, and in kind words after a tough day or a personal success.

The author Neil Gaiman often writes his New Years wish to his audience, to the world. I love that. Working on this piece for a few days and rising early with the baby on New Years Day affords me a smidgen of time to read some of what my favorite writers have said as we leap—not drag ourselves, not flee—into a new year.

I take heart in the truly spirited thinking and doing people are up to. I take heart in the opportunity to give more.

May we all encounter challenges and rise to meet them. May we do so together.

I wish you and yours an inspired, resilient, and invigorating 2017.

The Rush to Get Out Into the Snow

He seems too big to be my baby boy, yet still so small for someone who will one day be a man as big as I.

Little hands fill tiny mittens. Growing feet squeeze into small blue boots. My hat. His gone missing in the rush to get out into the snow.

His sister watches through the sliding glass door from her high chair. Jakey and I scoot around the deck scraping up hillocks of snow to mold into snowballs.

Cold snow, not made for packing.

Also not the kind that soaks your gloves and clothes immediately. It works up to it.

Trivial snowfall, but I remember that my son has only known a couple Oregon winters. Mostly mild, mostly snowless. He cannot remember a few years ago when we bundled him into the bright green poofy snowsuit and laid him in the snow just for a moment. Just until he started to cry.

He only knows that bright green costume as his sister’s snowsuit, the one she wears when we strap her into the stroller for a December walk. It is too slippery and amorphous and does not allow for arm carrying.

Now the cold, dry snow melts against his tiny mittens. Chills his fingers. Distress creeps into his voice, let’s go back inside.

Tap the snow from boots and shoes. Strip off winter outerwear to drip beside the vent.

We revel in the heat.

How much bigger next year and the year after? Up to my navel and then my ribs and then my chest.

And then?

My little boy.

Laughter is the Sun

How often do I throw my head back like this to laugh in delight?

Not enough.

More since having kids.

Emily’s laugh is intoxicating, her whole body taken over by bliss. She doesn’t decide to laugh, but merely embodies it.

If she were an adult, this could almost be one of those advertising photos with a woman having an impossibly good time on a cruise ship or at an Italian villa surrounded by other grown-ups with headshot-caliber perfectly plastic smiles. Almost. Real joy is hard to fake, it turns out.

Spending time with her dredges up that oft-repeated statistic about kids laughing hundreds of times per day and adults laughing somewhere between zero and a couple dozen. The exact data isn’t so important. I know kids and I know adults. It feels about right. Too many adults fall near that zero end of the scale.

Victor Hugo said, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”

Happiness is all around us if we look and ripples of laughter have the capacity to ripple across our lives. There are short- and long-term health benefits of laughing and one article I read even recommends increasing your laughter with something called laugh yoga. Another suggests we implement a laugh quota.  I measure a lot of things in my life. Should laughter now become one of them?

More than simply a tool for personal health, people credit humor with the potential to essentially save the world:

“Laughter is, after speech, the chief thing that holds society together.”—Max Easton

No small feat for mirth there.

Just the same, we can take a bleak turn with the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”

That’s dark Friedrich.

Sometimes when I laugh hysterically—at my kids, at a great movie, at an artful and poignant internet meme—I am startled by how good and also foreign that sensation can feel. I think I laugh quite a bit. Certainly more often now that I have kids. It still feels good to let loose. I have this overwhelming sense of goodness and the desire to create more of it. Why don’t I laugh like this every day?

Before kids, (should I call this time B.K.?) most of the hands-on-my-knees laughter was because of my wife or in the presence of my swimmers. How unsurprising, given the clichés about kids laughing most, that students of various ages brought some of the most laughter, the most humor to my days? Often as not, I double over with laughter at something one of our college swimmers says or does to a teammate. It’s simply my privilege to join them in this sometimes fraught yet hysterical time in their lives.

We can seek more joy, more laughter in the presence of others.

In our life B.K., Heather and I laughed a lot in conversation and far more than now in front of the television. Don’t get me wrong, some straight-up vegging in front of the TV sounds pretty good these days, if not more for fulfilling.

Now we laugh most with or in talking about our children. This feels right and good.

What do I do to make the most of this time? Try to lean into the laughter, for lack of a better term. I breathe it in and hold onto it and roll it over with my soul like savoring a great wine. Eye contact, phone somewhere else. In a perfect world…

At the least, noticing. What’s more, appreciating. It will go fast.

Everything does.

Spinning the Next Web

Spinning the next webSometimes housekeeping feels overwhelming.

Entropy threatens every open piece of carpet, every counter top. Young people scamper vigorously, moving toys from room to room, scattering them like so many breadcrumbs that create no discernible trail home, instead appearing as an expansion of territory outward from the playroom. Brightly colored chaos of sharp objects to distract the eye or puncture the soft underside of a misplaced foot.

Maintaining order seems an impossibility.

And then I realize that, in nature, one stiff breeze or an unobservant jogger or an errant pine cone can take you back to square one.

I don’t know how a spider thinks, but I imagine she does not take time to feel sorry for herself and the state of her thrashed web. She does not fret about having enough time to construct a new web or the seeming futility of starting over again and again, building something that is, by its nature, impermanent.

Regret is not part of her internal dialogue.

Order and tidiness are impermanent, just like the spider’s construction.

Overwhelm is not productive. It is just a feeling, though a powerful one once set in. Overwhelm annexes our focus when we operate mentally and emotionally outside the present moment, trying to manage the worry about what must happen next or what should have happened in the past. If only we can dial into this moment and its best application. Put this moment to use, be there. Then the next. Present always.

Build another web if you want to eat. No time to worry about being too busy. Start spinning the next web.

Honest

HonestBy this point I had picked him several dozen ripe blackberries. Our hands were stained with purple juices lining the creases in our skin. I can reach higher and deeper into the bushes so I collect the ripest, fattest berries from overhead and out of his reach while he works at my knee level.

I had eaten my fill and it was time to return home for his bedtime. He is insatiable and would have remained indefinitely, picking berries on this hillside a few blocks from our house.

Warm late evening sun touched our skin and I felt relaxed. I felt love. Each of us bathed in a sort of calm.

I plucked three more berries, ate one, and gave him the remaining pair.

As he bent to pick up his bike, I said, “Who takes good care of you?”

He answered immediately.

“Mom.”

“Your mom does?”

“She’s the best.”

Yes, she is the best. Of course she is.

Whatever question I ask him, I have learned to expect the unexpected in his response. In fact, the unexpected is what makes him so great. You can’t script this and you simply get to live it as his growth unfolds every day.

Honestly and earnestly. Matter-of-fact, covered in blackberry juice. Content.

It’s that time again…

It's that time again

What a week!

It’s that time once a quadrennial where the sport that lives near and dear to our hearts on a daily basis takes up that position in the hearts of many more people around the world. Our daily act of improving in swimming and competing for one’s team leaps onto the world stage.

And the swimmers are certainly performing on that stage!

My wife and I have stayed up far too late each evening watching Olympics and Coach Sarit and I generally have at least a sport or two playing in the office all day long.

So far, I have made a few observations I thought I would share:

  1. A focus inward on one’s own process and racing and inward toward one’s own team seems to elicit the best outcomes. The advice: focus on what you can control and those around you who support that process.
  2. A straight line still proves the most direct route. I have thoroughly enjoyed race footage from that roving camera above the center lanes that swings along with the competitors in the frame. There is no better angle to show how straight most of the best athletes’ body lines are. This gives them the dual benefit of moving in the most direct line from one end to the other while also allowing them to engage core muscles with their arms and legs to best effect. Even better, this is something we can all work on every day in the water.
  3. Inspiration and motivation are all around us. You don’t have to look far during an Olympic summer to find it. You just have to pay attention and let the energy sweep you up in the process. The takeaway: share what motivates you with others and let them lift you up, as well.

I certainly plan to take this excitement directly into our collegiate swim season that begins in just weeks!

I hope you’re enjoying the Olympics and soaking up the best moments. We have the privilege of watching ordinary humans who have taken what they do to extraordinary heights!

Junkie

Junkies                       (Because I won’t get near trademark infringement…)

I’ll take all I can get and still want more.

I’m not an equal opportunity junkie, though. I have my favorites. First week of the summer Olympics, I go straight for the swimming coverage.

But, once I’ve plowed through all of that, every last broadcast minute of prelims, semis, and finals, I venture out across the sports world in search of other fare.

Today alone I consumed judo medal rounds for men 83kg and women 63kg, archery, team handball, boxing, and women’s weightlifting.

Oh, and men’s field hockey. I admit, I did not know that men played field hockey. And the field is a striking deep blue color. Stunning. On the field hockey page you can scroll down to a video with this title: Ever Wonder: Why is field hockey turf blue?

I had not wondered until today. Turns out, the London Olympics officials made the field blue and the ball fluorescent yellow to make the game more visually appealing to fans watching on television and in person. Seems like it worked. The field hockey governing body went on to adopt those changes. London also employed pink walls around the field and the spectator area for contrast. That did not stick.

On another note, have you watched much team handball? It’s a fascinating game played, no doubt, by fantastic athletes when one reaches the Olympic level.

Every time I watch team handball, though, I see a game neighborhood children might create with equipment near at hand and time to kill. Ball the size of a little kid’s, not right for soccer even though they have a net. No basket for basketball. Okay. Work with what you’ve got. Every time I watch it, I think, “What?”

Fast forward from the neighborhood to the Olympic games and you have tall, tall men weaving past each other on a court, executing one give-and-go after another. They try to confuse the opposition and work the ball into a potential scorer. Just make sure you don’t cross that line! If you want to get nearer the net, you need to leap from behind the line and chuck the ball past the goalie before your feet touch inside the area I like to think of as offensive no man’s land.

Come to think of it, team handball is a lot like water polo, but without the swimming or the swimsuits, or the colored caps with ear protection.

There is so much to see.

Over the weekend I watched men’s and women’s beach and indoor volleyball, rowing, cycling, and synchronized diving.

Last night while cooking dinner, we had canoe kayak on TV and my son kept asking, “What’s happening to that man’s boat?”

They ride pretty low in the water. He was worried it would sink. Also, he kept asking about the man getting out of his boat after his run, which they don’t show on television. I think maybe he wanted to confirm they had legs and not just a boat growing out of their torso.

Table tennis.

Something I see at a professional level once every four years. Those players move the kind of fast I can’t wrap my mind around. To be honest, most Olympians are doing what they do at a level baffling to us amateurs, but table tennis is something a lot of us encounter (ping pong) at such a remedial, haphazard level that it bears no resemblance beyond the basic equipment. It’s like the difference between reading a book written in ancient Greek and simply using the book to level out an uneven table leg. Same book, but…

These Olympians move so fast it reminds me of watching my cat lash out with her paw when we play kitten games with the curtain between us. I can adjust my own timing to try to avoid her claws, but I cannot react even close to fast enough once she actually moves. Her speed is uncanny. Likewise, I can barely see the table tennis ball as it zips between paddles and table, but these men and women react and move with practiced speed that bleeds into a kind of otherworldly grace.

There is more to watch, more events to stream, so I move to the next fix and the next.

What is my fascination with the Olympics?

I think it is bred into swimmers to appreciate the quadrennial masterpiece that is a global coming together for sport. Channels are flooded with sports programming and many of the hours are sports that get little to no mention or coverage outside of these two weeks. Remember the last time you saw double trap shooting on Sports Center? Me neither.

The Olympics junkie lifestyle is not sustainable in the long term. Sleep suffers. Luckily, I can commit two weeks to this fix and then step away. The end will come soon and it will leave behind a bitter longing as the games have also filled me with so many glimpses into sport’s ideals of commitment, performance, and putting everything on the line for passion and team.

The closing ceremonies mark an end and point the way forward. One can be both full and empty.

Luckily, our college season starts soon. Athletic drive and team culture continue. I’ll move forward still immersed in all that is great in sport. The people, the work, the magic moments that make up a season.

And time will fly until the next big fix. The Winter Olympics are only 545 days away…

Will I Still Like Biscuit Sandwiches?

Will I Still Like Biscuit Sandwiches?It wouldn’t be the same without traffic. It wouldn’t be the same without trains.

Dining out with my 3 ½-year-old is also imminently easier, by comparison, than if we were joined by his baby sister.

Don’t get me wrong, we both love Emily.

But, Jakey and I have certain routines. We sometimes have our fun just the two of us.

When we get to Pine State Biscuits, he mills around in the lobby of the business complex because the rest of the place has been under construction for what seems like years, most of his life. Sometimes there are workers on ladders and other times just scaffold and various hydraulic lifts that are themselves both remarkable and oft remarked upon by my son.

We order.

I get the Reggie and coffee. He likes the blueberry pancake.

After that, I fill my coffee mug and he finds a table. Then we begin watching in earnest. He looks at delivery trucks and buses passing out on Division and 11th. From our seat this morning he could see the crossing guards come down and each orange line Max light rail and each cargo train roll through. Motorcycles rumbled past and a jacked up black pickup of the style he refers to as a “monster truck” idled outside the window for ten minutes when a slow-moving line of boxcars came to a complete stop on the tracks before backing up and parking in the intersection.

The pickup truck driver’s body language twinkled with frustration. His hand thumped rhythmically on the side of his truck as he craned his neck to see what could possibly be the hold up. He was hating life. He obviously didn’t come this way as often as we did. Those crossing guards drop every few minutes on a busy morning. A one-way street corked like an upside down bottle, catching all those frustrated drivers at the bottom.

Trapped by a train.

Finally, he climbed down from his unreasonably high urban perch and asked the woman in the station wagon behind him if she would back out into Division so that he could do the same and extricate his truck. I can only imagine how the conversation flowed. But, he climbed back up into his rig and she backed up and he backed up and that got him moving again. In that high, high cab on those big, big tires, eastbound on Division to the monster truck rally I imagine he must have been late for.

Jakey mostly watches vehicles over my shoulder and I mostly watch people. Sure, we talk, too, but small talk is not really where he is right now. It’s more pointing out amazing machinery and asking questions. We talk about what things are and where they might be going and I get a lot of, “Did you see that?!”

I get it. UPS trucks and dump trucks and fire engines are cool.

I love the morning bustle at Pine State. The staff are friendly. They’re surprisingly effective at slinging biscuit sandwiches and keeping the coffee pots refilled. They are a true cross section of S.E. Portland all clad in black. Some tatted, some bearded, some pierced. Some all of the above. Breakfast for two and free coffee refills for $12. It hits the spot.

We saw that cargo train a couple times due to its backing and blocking operation. Plus, two or three Max lines. A big morning.

For my part, I enjoyed getting a seat inside on a surprisingly calm morning at the restaurant. I enjoyed not feeling the need to stare daggers at anyone who decided to sit and read their morning paper alone in the corner booth big enough for six with the little sign stating, “Reserved for parties of four or more.” Like that one time Heather and I were there with both small kids and the tables were packed. Except for that one big table with the single occupant, his paper spread out, saving space for friends who arrived much later. That guy was a jerk.

Going out to breakfast with Jakey this morning was so much easier than a year ago. It’s hard to imagine what he might be like this time next year, even next winter. He’ll have a lot more life under his belt by then.

Can this be our hangout, our routine, as he gets older? Will I bring him here in high school on a warm summer morning like this? Maybe he’ll drive us. Maybe cars won’t have drivers by then. Will I still like biscuit sandwiches and gravy?

These things are hard to know.

Not all of them. I suspect I will still like gravy.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up—understandably—in surviving the now that it is hard to appreciate how far we’ve come or what it’s all about.

Tonight when I said goodnight to Jakey, I told him, “I had a really fun time going to breakfast at Pine State with you this morning. Thanks.”

He said, “Me too… Thanks.”

He did his level best to focus and maintain eye contact, even though it was his mom’s night to read and he loves stories and he was on the cusp of that reality as soon as I shut the door.

I’ll take it.

I’ll take him snuggling up on the bench seat next to me to look out toward the train tracks and the Max line, hoping to see a train. I’ll take his questioning that sometimes borders on incessant because I love his curiosity. It’s the last thing I want to quash.

We have some more breakfast dates in us this summer. And after that a nice fall. A few years from now kindergarten and too soon growing up and these young days of parenting will remain only as distant memory.

That sounds dramatic. Just the same, I talk to parents each year on the day they drop their kids off at college. I see the tears and hugs and head shaking at how it went so fast. And in little more than a blink those same parents are hugging their college grad almost four years later and they’re often hugging me. Now they are really shaking their heads because it was just the other day they dropped them off for orientation and not long before that they were tiny children.

So I see it. And even if I didn’t see it, they tell me about it. Tears brimming at the corner of their eyes, voices a little throaty as they replay that accelerated timeline life has been on since the kids were born.

Suddenly I understand why a parent would want to lift his child out of bed and give him one more hug at night. Just to make sure.

For now, though, most cars don’t drive themselves, those crossing guards will keep dropping across 11th just down the street from Pine State, and I most certainly still like gravy and biscuit sandwiches.

That means our breakfast dates will endure and we’ll make new memories. Tomorrow is nearer than next week and next year and graduation and wondering where the time went.

The time is now. The moments are many.

And the moments are everything.

Do you want to build a castle?

Do you want to build a castle?Our kaleidoscopic castle grows taller, wider. An elaborate Lego internal structure gives way to a magnet tile outer wall and an attached garage. The garage is for the school bus.

This all began half an hour earlier in the hustle and bustle of my wife getting ready to leave for work. It began with a question.

“Do you want to build a castle?”

“I do.”

I explained to Jakey we would build an epic castle as soon as Heather left with the baby. I was holding Emily at that moment, trying to allow for her squiggling in my lap without dropping her. I like to let her move and sort out her environment. In horseback riding it’s called “giving the horse her head.” You might be letting her pick her way down a rocky path, but you’re still holding the reins. In the baby’s case, it’s not because she knows better, like the horse, but because she needs to do her thing and develop muscle and balance.

Emily is rocking back and forth, weighted this way and that by her 96th percentile noggin and the disjointed way she sometimes pistons her legs fast, like she’s a frog undergoing electrocution.

She looks stunning—and more than a little froggy—in her bright green terry cloth shorts and zip up sweatshirt set.

Soon the ladies of our household depart and Jakey asks, for the 20th time, “Do you want to build a castle.”

“Yes.”

The Lego castle comes together quickly. I’m doing much of the building initially and he is acting out an indecipherable scene with his Lego cat, bunny, bear, and turtle figurines. I tell him I’m going to put on a record and I scooch over to the turntable and take off the record that has lived there for a few months.

“Is that Jimmy Buffett?”

He knows me so well.

Living and Dying in 3/4 Time. A great album.

Also, he recognizes the shark that has been staring out at us from the album cover leaned against the record player for a long time. The front is a (much) younger Jimmy lounging on a shipwreck in shallow, tropical water. But, the back cover is wrapped in one big underwater photo of a shark. I want to say the shark looks like it is prowling and toothy and ferocious.

I put on an old favorite. Paul Simon’s Graceland from 1986, which I got for $4.99 in a record shop in Claremont a number of years ago. I know the cost because there is still a yellow price sticker affixed to the plastic slipcase that reads, “USED $4.99.”

Now we are grooving. If you aren’t familiar with the album, you should probably check it out. It is positively in my top-5 favs. If I am pressed, like in a desert island type situation, it might make my top-3. Which means it is not only toe-tapping and singalong awesome, but I could listen to it over and over and over when I’m in the right mood. I gotta think that is critical for a desert island.

So we’re building. And we’re rocking.

And Jakey says, “I like this music.”

Says it matter of fact, unsolicited. He just keeps on laying magnet tiles.

It’s right then I think about gratitude.

I try to pay attention to these moments and cherish them. I’m gonna get all clinical now, but study after study shows that practicing gratitude makes our lives better.

And I’ve worked on this for years. It comes and goes, but it feels good to pay attention to the good. In fact, I think I talked about this last month.

Yep, I did.

In grad school, one of my faculty handed out these tiny notepads on the first day of class and told us this was our Gratitude Journal. We were to write three things we were grateful for each day for several weeks. I kept it by my bed and tried, really tried, to remember each night to spend a few moments sifting back through my day for the bright spots.

The key is not to write, “1. My family 2. My job 3. My health” every day.

The keys is to dig a little deeper and find the unique moments from that day you should appreciate for their own sake. Chance encounters, experiences, the big moments or the very small moments we would usually overlook. Good will shown to us or that which we showed another.

The research is largely unified on the benefits of a gratitude focus and no study I know of finds a negative correlation. Because come on, taking a few moments of your day to reflect on positive encounters or experiences and developing our ability to feel grateful… What’s the alternative? Saying, “Nah, I’m too busy to take even a moment to be grateful for something in my day.”

It is a simple, conscious act that has been shown to increase happiness and decrease depression. To increase the amount people exercise and also improve sleep quality and self-esteem while reducing aggression.

It’s not a drug.

It’s paying attention to your thoughts and experiences in a mindful way.

It is as simple as gratitude.

Go on, give it a try.

Appreciate and Initiate

Appreciate and InitiateThursday. April 21st, 2016

A pretty nondescript Thursday from my perspective. Only a couple things on the calendar: Take Jakey to preschool. Teach Lifeguarding class.

Then other work. The business of relating to people, recruiting, accounting, taking delivery of huge pieces of pool equipment. I like days like this with a wide swath of open time to dig into projects at the office.

Then pick up Jakey and spend a great evening with my family. I don’t have that on my calendar. It will just happen organically.

Still, it’s barely noon and I’ve had a pair of first time experiences already. In Lifeguarding class a productive conversation on CPR derailed into discussion of how you would use AED pads on a mole if he or she needed defibrillation.

One student to another: “What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you in a pool?”

“Wait, what…? Well, there was a mole in the pool once.”

Their ideas flowed from there: You’d probably need to place the pads one on the front and one on the back like you would for a baby so the pads don’t touch. And would you have to shave the mole’s fur first?

A fair question.

Where else would you discuss using an AED on a mole besides Lifeguarding class?

Veterinary school? Probably not even there. I don’t think moles are the target pet population for most veterinarians.

My second first–is that confusing?–came an hour later when a student worker tracked me down at the drinking fountain, breathless, to tell me a delivery truck was waiting outside Campus Safety for me.

After getting the driver through the gate and parked in front of the pool, I watched him wrestle our power rack to the edge of his truck bed where it wouldn’t quite fit out the door. It’s a tall piece of machinery.

The driver said, “I’m gonna need a hand up here.” He lowered the big truck gate down and said, “hop on.”

Free ride on a truck elevator? You bet!

I think it’s safe to say both these firsts fall under the umbrella of simple pleasures. It makes me just a little more attuned to watching for simple pleasures through the rest of my day. Keeping my eyes peeled for more chance firsts or brief moments of levity.

Yesterday, I used that eyes peeled phrase with Jakey as we sat on the ground atop our driveway watching for distant lightning and listening for thunder.

He asked, “How do I see it?”

I said, “You just gotta keep your eyes peeled.”

Even as I said it I thought he’d ask what that meant, to keep your eyes peeled. He didn’t. I may have witnessed the way quaint phrases like that slide into our vocabulary.

Back to the thunder and lightning. Simple pleasure, my boy sitting beside me, both of us with feet flat on the steep driveway, arms around our bent knees just gazing above the treetops across the road. Waiting. Smelling spring blossomy scents going past on the suddenly much cooler yet still-warm afternoon breeze.

Such a small piece of a time, just a moment, but one of the best I spent all day yesterday. If I have any sense, I’ll try to stay on the lookout for more of those moments.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

 

Post Script:

Inspiration.

Later that same Thursday afternoon I picked up Jakey about an hour earlier than I had intended from preschool and took him to Dairy Queen and then a nearby playground.

We climbed, we spun, and we played a little catch with his new mitt. Catch for him right now is really more like a game to challenge adults where you try as hard as you can to toss the ball gently into his open mitt so you can celebrate with him. Gotta start somewhere.

Did I decide to amend the plan in favor of ice cream and playground because I had spent a little time thinking about appreciating chance moments of levity? Absolutely.

In that moment I made the leap from not just watching for these moments, but creating them.

Appreciate and initiate. Or vice versa.

Immediacy of the Next

Immediacy of the NextRelaxing Sunday morning.

All five of us gather in bed for post-wake-up lounging around 6:50 this morning. The fifth occupant being the cat. Although, in deference to chronology, if not seniority, Beatrice is really number three in our household.

Sun peeking through the blinds is gold,  happy. Soothing without the rush of schedule. Moment to breathe deeply a few times before our loose yet active day begins.

Still, five of us in bed is cozy. One person, he’s three years old, needs subtle guidance much of the time.

“Touch your sister’s hair, but not her eyes. Try petting kitty toward her tail. Yes, like that.”

More days should start like this. Free from the immediacy of the next thing. And the next.

That more days do not start like this can either serve as cause for concern or cause for celebration when the slow, relaxing mornings do come.

I choose the latter because life is good.

I choose the latter because just now the only thoughts threatening to distract me from this moment are When should we head to the swimming pool? When will we go to the park?

These are the best distractions. The best kind of early morning.

Imagine That

Imagine ThatThe other day while driving to preschool I asked Jakey what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “Shark.”

I laughed.

I laughed for about a block and then said, “Really, a shark?”

“Yeah!”

“And I will eat. And I will go omp, omp, omp!”

His vigorous arm movements flashed in the rearview mirror each time he went omp!

Sometimes the honest answer is the most profound.

I don’t know if you can support a family as a shark, but I suspect they aren’t the family types anyway, not for long. I try to imagine the holidays when he’s older. Will he want to stay in his old room? Will his mom and I need to go to the ocean if we want to see him? What do you even get a shark as a present?

Every question merely brings more questions.

And I was the one who asked what he wanted to be in the first place.

I guess I should be glad he’s moved past his fear of sharks to embracing that inner shark instead.

Imagination is one of the best parts of being human.

Ice cream, too, I suppose…

But, imagination is pretty high up there. A few minutes listening to Jakey’s stories covers a lot of ground in time and space. He tells fantastical tales about a combination of preschool classmates and imaginary friends having adventures that are often vaguely derivative of things we had talked about recently: going shopping, a trip to the doctor, the cement mixers pouring cement on the new Sellwood Bridge deck, garbage trucks in the morning, or people doing yard work.

A friend made him a wooden crane for Christmas. Jakey has been craning up and down a rubber cow in the basket. Everything has a storyline. Not every storyline is clear.

He doesn’t fib very often, but his tales are so complex now that it’s hard to tell truth from unreality.

Usually fiction’s dead giveaway is when he or an imaginary friend gives birth or drives a car or a dump truck in his story. Short of these clues, unraveling the authentic from fantasy is a real puzzle.

By the time I make sense of one tall tale, an imaginary bear has lumbered through the room and destroyed something or a stuffed kitten has become a bridge over the train tracks and Thomas the Tank Engine is clickety-clacking underneath.

Deciphering his stories sometimes means unraveling where each component came from. Let me set this next one up for you.

Fact 1: Jakey has a Berenstain Bears story where Papa and Mama bear go away on a second honeymoon, leaving the kids behind at the grandparents before enjoying a week at a resort in the mountains.

Fact 2: I drink the occasional mocha and Jakey enjoys sharing my whipped cream. Whipped cream brings him a joy rivaled by few treats in this world.

Fact 3: Sometimes we stop at a drive-thru coffee stand over on Barbur Boulevard, so he’s seen me ordering and receiving coffee through my window from friendly women in small roadside wooden boxes.

Now that I’ve set the stage, here is his story hybrid. A few weeks ago we were playing upstairs and he went to his bedroom window and placed this order:

“Can I have a coffee mocha for the mountain lodge with whip cream, a lotta whip cream?”

He is truly my son.

Sun Sets on 2015

Sun Sets on 2015One year holds so much life.

For our family, the days and hours of laughter pile up quickly. Adventures arise in a trip to the playground, the supermarket, and our favorite breakfast stop for biscuits and biscuit sandwiches.

Sometimes it feels like a year has flown by.

Parts of my life do feel this way.

But, when I think back over all the ways Jakey has grown it seems like he’s a whole different kid now than last January. I have no more than to scroll through a year of photos to see his development. From toddling to running to jumping, climbing, throwing, kicking, and dancing around our living room like a maniac.

I bought my wife a book for Christmas by Sarah Ruhl. It’s called 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write.

At the end of essay #1, On Interruptions, she says:

“I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.”

Living and reveling in the present moments that are life is never more critical or more rewarding than when it comes to children. My son does this well. Legos, he’s all in. Trains, he is training and nothing will stand in his way. Same with bouncing on the trampoline, painting, or eating.

His lead is a solid one to follow. Our days and lives are best when I can live right in that moment, too.

Career Aspirations

Career AspirationsJakey notices everything that happens in our neighborhood. He’s like that creepy old lady who peeks out from behind the curtain and observes everyone else’s life, cataloguing it, just waiting. Except he’s two and a half, so it’s not creepy yet.

Give him time, though.

This morning, he asked where our neighbor was when we passed his empty driveway. I said he was probably at work at his veterinary clinic.

“Why is he a veterinarian?”

“Well, I guess he probably likes helping animals. I would guess he also likes science since he had to learn a lot of science to do his job. Do you think you want to be a veterinarian when you get older?”

“No.”

Didn’t even wait a beat, just answered.

“What do you wanna be?”

“Shark.”

Cropping Out Your Doubt

Cropping out your doubtIf we try hard enough (or smart enough) we can often look past difficulty.

Or around it.

The key is not to look directly at the difficulty so long that we become paralyzed and eventually give up. Many times we throw in the towel even before starting the search for other options.

You can take stock of your situation, look adversity in the face. It is probably a good idea to do so. That said, locking eyes with it for too long saps us of our energy for perseverance and creative thinking. Once you have your bearings, your time is likely better spent doing something besides focusing on the fact that something went wrong or what might go wrong next.

Easier said than done, I know.

It’s funny the way I came upon this theme. No big disaster. Not even the cold I got from my son (thank you preschool). No, my reminder came in the above photo I took last Friday at Pt. Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington.

The sun is what caught my eye walking beneath a high canopy of frosted limbs. Amazing how light broke into flaming gold around the tree. I snapped two shots and knew I liked neither. I had no more time to frame a third. I was trailing a friend and my toddler who were playing with sticks, which was the real purpose for our visit. Not enough stick play in my son’s life and I had determined that I should make up for that.

Over several days I looked back at the two sunshine shots and could not get past the inelegance of the picnic structure and the year-round park restrooms they included. I am sure there are ways to capture each of these buildings elegantly, but I had not done so.

It wasn’t until tonight that I took another look and decided I could crop out all the manmade humdrum of what was still a stunning mid-morning view. A basic lesson of photography that I’ve gone and stretched into life wisdom.

Is this cheating, to clip and cut away what you don’t want in the picture? I don’t think so. It’s my picture, my moment. Just like your life is yours to create. You don’t have to keep every bit that you don’t want, that isn’t doing you any good.

A perspective shift from editing a camera phone photo I snapped in the park? It is about moving past a problem toward a solution. Inconsequential though it may seem on its face, you never know. Little steps add up, especially when they’re heading in the direction you want to go.

Can we salvage every photo? By extension, is every bad life event “winnable”?

Maybe not.

Then again, staring directly into our doubt, fixating, giving ourselves over to its adopted power—this is no solution. This offers no glory. Whether there is a bright spot to hold your focus or not, reframing is better than wallowing.

Give it a good, honest examination. Go for it. But, then you move on and look past it. Or you turn to see in a completely new direction.

Doubts don’t have the power. You do.

To my friend—A celebration of Coach Miller

Dear Coach,

Week before last I was hosing down the pool deck at the college.

You know the routine. Careful steering of debris toward the drains. Wet feet by the end.

Two home meets coming up and the deck needed some work. Several times I thought of you. Remembered the times, too many to count, that you hosed the pool deck because there were standards to uphold and a tidy, clean pool deck was certainly one of them. Those standards outweighed the fact it wasn’t part of your job description because you have always operated on a different job description than one prescribed merely by “work.”

Yours is a higher standard and one committed to people and place in a way many won’t ever understand and not enough people are likely to experience.

Each time you did this chore, you would come back into our office and say, beaming, “Coach, we’ve got the cleanest drains in the Northwest Conference!”

High standards for both human interaction and for organization. I remember the way you folded up your reflective window screen from your Subaru windshield, snapped the elastic bands securely around it, and placed it in the back seat any time we drove your car in the warm months. Repetition engenders precision. As long as you do things the right way every time. The best way you can.

Every signature you signed using either a credit card or ID as a ruler to achieve that straightedge bottom line. That predictably severe bottom line was as much your signature as your signature itself.

Meticulous.

A flood of memories too bountiful to fully catalog.

Times we went to Flying Pie for lunch: countless.

Times you had them write Pioneer Swimming on the ticket as the name they should call out over the PA when our slices were up: countless.

And they did it, sometimes bemused or confused, sometimes with gusto. I guess it’s fitting this was one of our last times together. You and Jakey and I on a warm afternoon lunch date a while back.

Then there was sharing an office. Volumes of time, volumes of memories. We spent between five and seven days a week together for nearly seven years.

That is a lot of time.

A lot of shared stories, shared meals, shared laughs, fist bumps, inside jokes, ups, downs, challenges, and lively conversation. It’s fitting the astounding and committed young woman who now resides at your old desk is also more tidy than I am, also great with organization and—dare I say—likes (mostly) the intricacy and meticulousness of tracking all our gear and managing the spreadsheets. Big shoes to fill. And it’s lucky for me to work with someone who loves this program as much as you and wants as much for these college students as you.

I always knew you were a better man than I and told you as much on more than one occasion. We didn’t agree on everything and we didn’t need to. Our big picture view was almost always the same and there were invariably our key tenets of hard work and responsibility and doing things the right way. We began from that shared understanding and worked well from that beginning.

Early on, you asked me if you could keep your Olympic torch in the office. Who could turn that down? You had your own Olympic torch. It was about the coolest thing ever.

More than once we circled a team of Pioneers up and you told the story of your torch and passed it around, swimmer to swimmer, letting each person feel its heft and hopefully imbue a little of its significance on their own psyche. The whole time we did this, I held my breath, watching this glass and steel artifact of a great honor you received pass from hand to hand above our hard tile deck. I knew how much that torch meant to you and that what meant even more was sharing a small part of its magic and meaning with as many people as possible. One more way for you to touch lives.

Magic and meaning is nothing if it is not shared.

You applied for the coaching job during my first week or two at L&C. You sent a few names of coaches who had been instrumental in my own swimming life and suggested they might be good references for you. Of course they were.

We met in person a couple times and talked about the sport and the team. I felt as much like you were interviewing us as the other way around. Which all makes sense when I take into account the high standard you hold yourself to. You would only join a team that made that ideal a focus, as well.

I wish you could see Jakey grow up. We used to call him Jakey B. and you used to tell people, “He’s Jakey B…. You know, like Jay-Z.”

Yes, Coach, I know.

Jakey loved that lunch at Flying Pie. After we left he kept asking, “What’s Coach Miller doing?”
“I don’t know buddy, he probably went home. Did you have fun at lunch?”

“Uh huh!” He talked about you all afternoon.

The memories tumble back in no particular order while I look through old photos. One picture I have is of you playing Noah Boring in ping pong next door in the Hall of Champions. You could give him an actual game, more than the rest of us. You are surprisingly good at ping pong. I won’t say for your age. I won’t say for having to wear dark sunglasses indoors. Which means it shouldn’t really be a surprise. You are a competitor in every way and there’s no reason that shouldn’t include ping pong.

I used to say to my wife that, given your energy level and coaching endurance post-cancer and in your fifties, I couldn’t imagine anyone keeping up with you in your youth. I still can’t.

You are effective and committed and above all passionate about the people in your life. Everyone you met fell under the umbrella of your care. It wasn’t just our athletes. You connected PE students in your beginning swimming class with your contacts at OHSU. You helped at events all across campus and were present more than most full time staff.

You are all in.

We could all be so lucky to live our lives as all in as you.

Hanging over my front door in our living room is the wooden sign you and the team had made for Heather and I several years ago. The Fantz Family. Plus the date we were married. Family is important to you. I remember all your Thanksgivings you told me about, 56 family members in one place together one year and 48 another. I’m not sure about the exact numbers, but I know you would be if I could ask you. My memory is for names and spelling and pronunciation. Yours had the strongest command of dates and times and data. It made us a good pair.

I’ve been scanning through eight plus years of your emails. You know, just for kicks. Your penchant for incredible detail and specificity comes rushing back to me. And it reminds me of your voice mails. They would start something like, “Hey Coach, it’s Michael and I’m calling you at 9:53am on Tuesday March 6th.”

Except sometimes you would pause to come up with the exact date. No matter how long the pause, I knew you would complete that date stamp before moving into what we’ll call the meat of the message. Because details are important.

Your love of Diet Pepsi.

If a restaurant only had Diet Coke, you would sometimes decline and just drink water. I loved those moments.

Bus trips. The time you left your medication at home, got our driver to take you to a late-night pharmacy in the middle of nowhere because those drugs were important, and later found your black med kit wedged in an out of the way shadow of the bus, there all along. Better safe than sorry. You laughed about it and that allowed me to laugh, too.

The Pioneer Swimming sign you taped into the front window on many a bus trip just to let the world know. Balloons and signs on hotel doors at the Conference Championship. I always got a sign on my door, too.

Almost every part of my day contains the pleasant minutiae for charming up memories of you. Sitting in Starbucks with my coffee and I remember one of your go-to drink orders: Venti Soy Latte, no whip, no foam, and half a pump of vanilla.

You’re one of the few people I know who still send e-cards. Some were, of course, the e-card reminders about setting clocks back. But, there is the one I just reread to my son for his second birthday. It shows a pair of tiny feet in some very man-sized and shiny black dress shoes. After the birthday message to Jakey is a “P.S. Someday you will fit into your dad’s shoes.”

I think he will.

And there was a Veteran’s Day e-card dated a year ago last week. You’re the only one who has given me a Veteran’s Day card. It reminds me how you had a route you would drive on such holidays leaving flowers at a range of family graves around a few counties. It was important to you to remember.

How does one person hold so much caring, so much good?

You brought a love of the sport to your swim coaching and, more importantly, a passion for helping people. You cared deeply about serving students and about supporting them as they grew into the best adults possible. You were there for broken hands and broken hearts. For the hard days and the hard knocks of life. And for the many, many more good times, too. Thousands of people across generations count their one and only Coach Miller as a central and essential figure in their life and growth. Please know I’m one of them.

All of this is to say…

I wish I could have told you about hosing down the pool deck.

I said the words in my head when I finished, when I had cleaned out and scooped up the hair and gunk and debris as you had countless times before. I laughed out loud alone on the pool deck, the hose still running, a handful of gray pool deck detritus, my shoes and socks drenched.

“Coach, we’ve got the cleanest drains in the Northwest Conference!”

There are big legacies and small ones. You leave innumerable examples of both. Countless of us lucky enough to know you. I am glad to have played a role in your being in the lives of so many of our swimmers here and this whole Pioneer family. For what you taught them, but more so for the example you set of how to live a life.

For how we can all live our lives if we are willing to care enough, give enough, show enough of our humanity to those we meet.

You are that rare breed of human who is both a big ideas person and a doing-the-work-every-day connector who gets to know people on a true, direct, personal level.

I am lucky. We are all lucky for the time and humanity you shared with us.

I will miss you.

Michael Miller

Not her first rodeo

“Poison Control, this is Janet. How can I help you?”

Hers was the calm confidence you want to hear in an emergency. This was my first call to the Poison Control hotline, but I could tell by Janet’s voice—warm, a touch grandmotherly—we were in good hands.

I gave her the quick rundown. My son had eaten more toothpaste than was strictly necessary for brushing one’s teeth. He loves the stuff. I had followed him up the stairs about thirty seconds behind and found him sitting on the toilet seat squeezing toothpaste into his mouth. Two hands grasping the tube, going to town.

She made a sound of acknowledgment.

“Was it Tom’s of Maine Children’s Toothpaste… Silly Strawberry flavor?”

Janet was on her game.

“Hah! Is that the one they’re all eating?” I asked.

“Children do love to ingest that toothpaste.”

She asked Jakey’s age and weight. She said, “I’m sure he didn’t eat too much of it, but let me run the numbers.”

Sure enough, he would have had to eat two tenths of an ounce more than the bottle could hold to have been truly harmful. Since ours was mostly empty when he started, we agreed I’d give him some milk and let her know if there was any turn for the worst.

Apparently the calcium in milk does something to neutralize whatever you don’t want kids to eat in toothpaste. Or so Janet would have me understand.

I will consider that call a dry run for the real emergency I hope never occurs. It’s both unsettling and reassuring to know even children’s toothpaste has the poison control hotline number on the back. Just in case.

And again in our home the verboten dental hygiene product is placed ever higher, ever more out of reach. Until such time each evening as a reliable adult may supervise the applying of the toothpaste in a tiny daub and the brushing of the teeth.

The kid is a danger to himself. I suspect all the good ones are. Still—and this only occurs to me now—maybe I should put that number into my phone. Or keep a tube of toothpaste handy.

Just in case.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

You're gonna need a bigger boatAdrift.

On wide open seas.

I don’t think we’re going to make it.

All three of us are on the same futon, surrounded by sharks.

We have paddles—a plastic rake missing one tooth, a plastic shovel, and a matching yellow hoe. These are little use.

Inexplicably, we have begun chumming the water to, as Jakey puts it, “Feed the sharks.”

Heather holds the basket of plastic food from Jakey’s kitchen and he tosses one piece at a time onto the carpet to feed the sharks. Plastic lettuce here, a plastic T-bone steak there. Asparagus. An ice cream sandwich. These sharks are eating well.

Then Heather tosses a piece of plastic broccoli and it rolls out the doorway and to the far side of the kitchen.

Jakey says, “not over there!” He scoots off the futon and runs out of the playroom to retrieve it. I wait until he grasps the broccoli and has just turned to come back before I shout.

“Shaaaarrrrrrk!

His blue eyes open wide. He motors, those little legs pistoning in triple time, and when he hurls himself back into our arms on the futon I feel his heart hammering through his rib cage against me.

He cackles. He can’t catch his breath through the excitement and laughter.

He is back on the futon again. Floating. Safe.

For now.

Digest 1—Sharing Conversation

Digest 1I often have conversations with friends that begin, “I just read this interesting article” or “In this podcast I was listening to…”

The world is big and interesting. Consider this digest and those to follow as my online repository for those conversations. Now those chance conversation topics live on.

Here is what I’ve been reading, doing, and looking at over the past week or two.

1. This article on nakedness is awesome. Could people stand to be a little more accepting of the human body in general? I think so.

The author follows with some fascinating scientific backing on the idea of accepting the human body as natural. Crazy, I know.

The studies on children raised in accepting and open environments are intriguing.

 

2. I started reading Bill Bryson about fifteen years ago. I began with In a Sunburned Country, which came out in 2000. He’s a funny, funny man: bumbling, humble, and unique.

Last week my Portland Literary Arts catalog came in the mail. I love to read it because it makes me think about books and reminds me how many other people in Portland love books. The catalog pointed me to The Archive Project by Oregon Public Broadcasting (are you down with OPB?).

Still with me? This archival project, in turn, led me to their podcast. If you know me well, you know I’m borderline addicted to podcasts. Is it an addiction if it’s a positive, value-adding experience that makes my life better?

I promise I could stop anytime I wanted…

I digress.

Bill Bryson gave this talk at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland. You can call it The Schnitz if you’re from around here. Or if you want to sound like you are.

This talk listens like three parts stand-up comedy and one part author talk. Bryson’s writings are approximately the same ratio: three parts comedy, tomfoolery, mishaps, and curmudgeon-ness; one part Americana, history, travel, and world perspectives by a man who’s traveled far and lived in different places.

Some amazing authors comprise this archive. I plan to listen to Gore Vidal and Sebastian Junger next.

 

3. I love colors and patterns. I had designs on going into this art supply store with Jakey even before I knew I wanted to buy a shadow box frame for his starfish (a tale for another time).

No shadow box at the used art supply store in Hillsdale, but I snapped a few quick shots before chasing him on his flight back out the door. Turns out, a store jam packed with cool things to handle is not so fun when you’re not allowed to mess with everything in sight. He was out.

I could spend quite a while sifting through all the arts and crafts goodies in this place. Maybe when he’s older.

4. One of my former swimmers at L&C is wrapping up two years in El Salvador with the Peace Corps. I love reading Rachel’s stories about her work abroad in this community.

She is funny and insightful. She gives us the flavor and colors of rural life in El Salvador coupled with stark realities and unclear futures facing so many of these families.

One of my favorite excerpts:

“As I leave them I just hope that I have shared as much with them as they have with me, that I have created a tiny crack through which they can peer out at a different future if they choose. And I hope so much that they do choose that.”

This post is about preparing to leave and considering what mark she herself might leave on this community and these kids in particular. I know Rachel and so I know her impact has been positive. I hope—as she does—it will be lasting.

Give this post a read and enjoy!

Thanks for following me down these paths. I bid you a great week!

Simple Pleasure

Simple PleasureI would say our family has been running in circles a lot lately, but it’s really more of an oval.

Jakey will walk up to me and say, “Daddy, will you scare me?”

The invitation is tough to turn down even if I’m tired. Most evenings Heather and I spend at least some minutes running laps around our downstairs, one of us with a paper bag over our head and the other jogging along behind Jakey or serving as a safe haven when the monster gets too scary.

Heather made a paper bag into a mask when this all began. She cut holes and drew a scary face. Jakey’s imagination does all the work after that. I have only to drop the bag over my head to send him shrieking and giggling from the room. There is just something about being chased. I remember the feeling.

This has been good exercise for Heather and I. For Jakey, he never stops moving anyway, so it’s just different exercise.

Sometimes Jakey chases us. Heather made him his own bag mask where he can slip his arms through the paper handles to keep it in place. Otherwise it bounces and jostles about with each stride and he has even more difficulty running straight than the typical toddler.

The charade has broadened. Sometimes one of us holds his stuffed lamb or dog inside the paper bag—a little furry muzzle poking out the mouth hole—and chases him around saying, “Lamby monster!” or “Doggie monster!”.

This is less terrifying to him, but only by small degrees.

The thing is, sometimes you don’t feel like racing around and around your living room, kitchen, and dining room after a long day.

And you do it anyway.

His giggles pour into my heart and every time I find it hard to believe something this simple brings him so much joy. Sometimes we go clockwise lap after lap. Sometimes I switch directions and meet him halfway back around. When it gets too real up in here, he will run headlong into his mother’s legs—or to mine if Heather is playing the part of the monster and I am unmasked. He hides behind our legs, buries his face, laughs, and peeks out cautiously, happy terror rippling his body with energy.

I taught him to stand up for himself last week. I thought he needed a better out than shrieking in abject horror and being let off the hook.

If the monster is too much, if he dare not flee any longer, he has only to hold up a hand with his arm outstretched and declare, “Away monster. Away monster!”

The monster will cock its brown paper bag head to one side and slink away dejected.

Within seconds of my removing the mask, Jakey usually runs up to me, grabs my pant leg, and looks up with bright blue eyes.

“Daddy, will you scare me?”

10 Things that mean more to me as a father

10 things that mean more to me as a father

  1. Firetrucks
  2. Time to read a magazine
  3. Hugs
  4. Construction equipment
  5. Boats
  6. Throwing stones into water
  7. Sunday mornings around the house
  8. Everyday sights like garbage trucks passing outside, dogs on walks, and people mowing their lawn
  9. Minor to medium-sized holidays
  10. Using the blender or coffee grinder

It is not lost on me that these are all simple things.

You don’t have to plan for them, save up for them, or delay gratification. You just need to notice them. Having a child makes the noticing come more naturally for me.

How did you get here?

How did you get hereI must have looked like a confused golden retriever with my head cocked to one side when I first saw the sunflower sticking up out of the ravine. It was about waist high to my position on the paved shoulder and a few feet down the hill.

Out of place.

I pass this ravine almost daily when I walk, run, or drive along the edge of Tryon Creek State Park. It’s the most direct route to and from campus. The first time I saw a sunflower was two weeks ago. They are anything but discreet in front of a backdrop of green creeping ivy, tall trees, and snarled undergrowth. It catches the eye like those hideous (-ly awesome?) pink flamingoes that were so popular.

Today the first flower had wilted, but a new sunflower stood a few feet away. It’s not huge like you see in some gardens. Our friends’ grow them with heads larger than dinner plates that stare down at me like I’m tiny (I’m not tiny, though).

This one seems miniature, maybe eight inches across the face on a stem four feet high.

I’m neither botanist nor gardener—come on, have you seen my yard?—so I don’t know if someone had to plant them here or if a bird was in on it. Maybe someone walking along Terwilliger Boulevard dropped some seeds in the ravine.

Would that even work?

The how is neither here nor there.

I love the sunflower. This specific one, not the flower in general. It’s the out of place vibe it gives off. Spot the same flower in a robust garden and it’s no big deal.

This is unlike a field of wildflowers, beautiful in their entirety, yet you can’t appreciate each individual plant.

For example, when you see a solitary purple flower creeping up through a crack in a city sidewalk amongst treading feet and tires and chaos, clinging to shreds of soil and begging for life, it’s different than the sloped field of wildflowers on Dog Mountain. In one scene, flowers proliferate, another they eke out their chance to bloom against the odds.

Flowers embody the temporary. Enjoy them alive.

If you press them between the pages of an old novel, as I have, they are preserved in some small measure. You can mount them between two pieces of window glass soldered together and make lovely art. Some of the color fades and some stays. All of the 3-dimensionality departs.

If you are a painter and you paint them, they may be beautiful, but they are anything but transitory. They are permanent and they are paint, not plant.

Some of the most striking and unsettling flower paintings hang on the wall in my favorite pizza restaurant, Bruno’s, in Longview, Washington. Dark scenes of wilted flowers in vases where I could practically smell the decay and picture the moldy, wet stems within each vase. The paintings unnerved me, yet they were closer to real. Once flowers are cut and in a vase, their life as flowers is already past. It becomes a matter of decay, prolonged although it may be by water or those little packets of white mystery powder the florist gives you.

Each time I pass by, I will scan the ravine and hope it made it another day.

I will enjoy the sunflower as long as it’s there.

This Much Joy

Elation.

We should all be so lucky to live with this much joy in our lives.

If even a moment of each day could contain this much unbridled, rapturous energy… What a way to live!

This video has been bouncing around the internet for a while, but every time I watch it I’m renewed in spirit.

You can stack all kinds of metaphors onto this yellow dog if you try. Single-minded determination to reach your goal. Live a joyous life. Free your inner Labrador. Know your passions. Follow your bliss.

But, no metaphor is necessary. This dog is not thinking metaphorically and that is part of what allows us to revel in his or her race to the ocean. Worry is not part of the equation. The dog pays no mind to rising temperatures, pollution, politics, war or poverty.

The dog is here. The ocean is there.

One must move to the other.

Go.

Big and Small Things that Happened on Friday

Big and Small Things that Happened on FridayMany things happened Friday.

Specifically last Friday June 26th, 2015.

For starters, a girl named Hollie thanked me for teaching her that morning at swim camp.

She thanked me several times actually. Hollie is maybe the most courteous young person I have ever coached. I don’t mean the kind of rote and robotic courtesy you encounter from someone who is afeared of what would happen if she weren’t courteous. Hers was a genuine, happy, eye contact with a nod and a smile kind of courtesy that makes each of our coaches and camp counselors glad we do what we do.

That was one thing that happened.

Free beer.

That’ll get your attention—or it gets mine, at least.

I enjoyed my free beer at Bishops Barbershop in Multnomah Village as I waited for my haircut after camp checkout. Consider it some me time after a lot of standing and walking on a pool deck for six days. My lager went down smooth while I read a Portland Mercury article about the new vinyl record pressing company in town, Oregon’s first. I don’t play music or have an album, but it’s nice to know that if I did I could get it pressed locally for the first time. As long as I could afford the minimum run of 500.

My long-overdue haircut, my beer, and a newspaper are small things. Yet, it is sometimes the little things that count.

As it happens, it is also sometimes the big things that count.

Dozens of people I know and care about deeply can now marry. Hundreds of thousands more that I don’t know can, too. And my gay friends who are already married will see those bonds and rights recognized nationwide.

Not a small thing.

In other news, swim camper Mark’s pinkeye was improved Friday morning. His eye drops were working and he was on his way home in relatively good spirits. No small victory for Mark, but it’s all relative.

Friday was also the day I broke my self-imposed Facebook (semi-)fast. It’s not worth explaining how a semi-fast works, trust me.

I thrilled in scrolling through my news feed to see friends’ and family’s reactions to the Supreme Court ruling. Good will and celebration rang far and wide. I pictured the heart-swell of joy spreading across the land like veins carrying lifeblood through our bodies.

A big thing.

Others are not celebrating.

I know this. I regret it. But, what I see and hear and feel from friends is not the in-your-facing taunt of a shallow victory, but true joy ringing out. I mean the hammer of justice, bell of freedom, song of love kind of joy. It’s that big.

Not everybody I know is on board.

Cruising that same news feed reminds me of this. I care about and respect people with widely differing views from my own. What I’m glad about is the fact that the messages I saw from them showed (reiterated) that these friends are decent people. The backlash of hate and small mindedness that I know is coursing through the same internet is not coming from these friends.

That, too, is not a small thing. I am glad I have been able to surround myself not just with people like me, but with people who are good and decent though they may still believe different things. I am grateful for this, even as I wish some of them felt different.

It can be hard not to reduce things to us and them when dealing with something society considers a wedge issue. This one feels more like a schism issue, a colossal canyon separating opinions.

I am glad about the Supreme Court’s ruling. I am glad for the groundswell of acceptance that led to this day, decades in the making. It’s not lost on me that we are only slowly, incrementally, catching up to much of the first world on this and so many other issues.

The diversity and uniqueness that makes our country great has also sown the seeds for a complicated path to say the least.

Let’s be honest, I live in a progressive corner of a progressive state on the west coast. Elsewhere people are fighting back, lobbing incendiary calls for boycotts, and cheering as local governments strike back against the new law of our land.

I hope the groundswell of acceptance and change that got us this far washes over those regions and continues to clean away fear and misguided beliefs.

One thing strikes me as I think about those places where the response to this ruling is not merely tepid compared to mine, but downright frosty. I am glad for the rays of hope the ruling might give to the LGBT community living within those strongholds of bias. To live either closeted in fear or out in fear, surrounded by bias and bigotry, is no small trial. Their hope remains a light at the end of a long, winding tunnel, but one whose end approaches without ceasing.

There are bias and inequality in all places. The road ahead is long, not short, but a better future lies ahead and we are moving toward it.

This is not an end, but only a point for celebration along the journey. So I return for another moment to my scrolling newsfeed of friends and their rainbow-tinted celebrations of joy—inner happiness radiating out across the world.

Eating the House

Eat the House“Is her house made out of gingerbread?”

“What?”

In hindsight, I can see how my question might have confused Heather.

“In Hansel and Gretel. Is the witch’s house made of gingerbread? Do they eat it?”

“I don’t remember them eating the house.”

The thing about fairy tales is they can start to blur together. We reached no consensus on what exactly set the witch on the young siblings in the woods. I was sure they had stumbled lost onto her edible home and begun eating it. Heather remembered something about Hansel using a chicken bone so the witch would not think he had fattened up enough to eat.

It’s just such a situation that benefits from owning a complete volume of the fairy tales by the brothers Grimm. I dug into the story.

Turns out, we were both right.

And if you think Grimm’s fairy tales are strange in their original form, you’re right about that, too.

Only seven pages long and weird, weird, weird. Maybe you remember this story better than I do. In the interest of full disclosure, these are the things I remembered about Hansel and Gretel before rereading it this week:

  1. Kids eating the witch’s house
  2. A witch
  3. The witch is a bad witch
  4. Someone pushes her into an oven

Things I did not remember:

  1. The house is not actually gingerbread. That’s some other story, maybe. The house is actually, “built of bread, and roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar.” Maybe I’m splitting hairs. Sounds kind of like a gingerbread house.
  2. This is also the story with the breadcrumbs. You know, leaving a trail to follow home…
  3. The kids need to leave a trail in the first place because they overheard a plot to abandon them far out in the forest and Hansel is a problem-solver.
  4. The bread crumbs are eaten by birds and the trail disappears.
  5. Which is too bad because the first time, the trick worked. That’s right, this happens to Hansel and Gretel TWICE!
  6. Their step-mother (isn’t it always the step-mother?) wants to be rid of them because the family is always short on food. The first time, Hansel drops pieces of flint that show up in the moonlight and they follow them home. Step-mom foiled.
  7. The witch makes her house of deliciousness to lure young children because that is what she prefers to eat. Even surrounded by all manner of pastries and breads. Grubby children lost in the forest. Creepy. But, as far as tales you tell to keep kids from wandering off into the forest go, I guess it gets the point across.
  8. It’s Gretel who pushes the witch into the oven, shuts the door, and has the sense to bar the oven door, as well.
  9. By the time the siblings wander back home (having crossed a stream on a duck’s back, by the way), their step-mother is dead and they and their father (much aggrieved at having succumbed to the abandonment plan) live, it would seem, happily ever after. All she wrote, right?
  10. The end of the fairy tale is a strange, sing song-y little poem so unrelated to the events of the story as to appear a non sequitur. It’s about catching a mouse and making a big fur cap out of it. Mice were bigger in fairy tale times… Maybe something is lost in translation from the original German.

I think it could prove fruitful to distil the lessons young children might expect to take from such a tale. Consider this my favor to children and their parents.

  1. If you live in the forest or expect you might be abandoned in one, keep bits of flint handy and hope for a full moon.
  2. Don’t leave a trail of bread. I mean, really, use your head.
  3. Ask yourself a question. Have you ever seen a house made completely of bread and treats? No? Never? Probably don’t eat one if you find it then. Certainly don’t go inside when the red-eyed witch invites you to live with her.
  4. In summation:
    1. Ducks who help you cross a stream = good.
    2. Witches who fatten you up to eat you = bad.
    3. Step-mothers who abandon you in the forest, (twice) = bad.
    4. Resourcefulness is as good as luck.
    5. Stranger danger.

It’s All Relative

Jakey on a stretch of river at Willamette Park.
Jakey on a stretch of the river at Willamette Park.

“The first six miles really weren’t that bad.”

This is how she put it.

“There was a lot to look at, all the bridges and buildings. But, once I passed under the Fremont Bridge…”

I had lunch with my friend Emily recently. She coaches swimming and she swims, as well. A few years back she completed—I think also won, but that’s neither here nor there—the Portland Bridge Swim.

As the website says, this event is your chance to “Swim 11 scenic miles through beautiful Portland, Oregon.” The course runs down the Willamette from Sellwood Bridge to St. Johns Bridge. If you’re from greater PDX and you know those bridges, think about the drive from Sellwood all the way to the St. Johns Bridge. It’s a ways.

Most people can’t swim a couple laps of a pool without stopping. The leap from floundering in your local swimming pool to covering 11 murky miles of Willamette River non-stop is tremendous.

When you think about the percentage of the population who can accomplish a particular feat, I’d says it’s like the difference between walking to the bathroom in your house and running an ultra-marathon. [That statement is thoroughly unverifiable, so let’s not quibble about it.]

It’s all relative.

You don’t swim 11 miles non-stop without some background. And you don’t do amazing things without working up to them. That goes for most anything in life.

You don’t write a novel without writing the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence of a novel. And before the first line of a novel there were thousands of pages of stories, essays, and drafts leading up to this journey. Plus the reading. Always reading. Sometimes it’s the great authors, often anything you can get your hands on.

A firefighter doesn’t run into a burning home on a whim. She spent years preparing for this. She lived a life with behavior rooted in the kind of character and tenacity that would lead to what years later we label heroism.

Everything impressive seems daunting from the outside. You have to break it down. Law school is a lot. Med school or piloting a helicopter are a lot. Smaller increments make them manageable.

Great events and great accomplishments are all relative. We would do well to celebrate the exertion and preparation leading to success as much as we revere a person when they reach the pinnacle.

This year’s Portland Bridge Swim is July 12th. Odds are, you’ll reread the part about swimming 11 miles and think it sounds crazy. Just remember, it’s all relative.

More Awesome Than Theirs

More Awesome Than TheirsPicture a man carrying a 13-foot long stand-up paddle board over his head through a crosswalk at a busy intersection. For the sake of the imagery, picture him as a small man in stature, but in fairness you should also know he’s totally ripped (as we said back in the day).

Stefan mentioned this morning after masters swim practice that he just got a new stand-up paddle board. He lives near the Willamette and described his walk to get to the river. He seemed a little embarrassed about what he must look like to passing cars.

I said, “You know, every single person in their car at that intersection thinks your life is more awesome than theirs.”

Never mind that he is a busy student and training for an emotionally challenging career in a helping profession. Never mind that he may or may not make it out on the water all that often. The fact of seeing someone embarked on something so gloriously recreational when I’m commuting inspires me.

You might think it provokes envy. It does.

But, it also reminds me of the freedom I enjoy to occasionally be that person celebrating our city and my life during the culturally prescribed business hours.

My friend Dave once told me about an encounter with a masters swimmer in the Bay Area many years ago. Dave was a teacher and so he attended the 5:00am practices before school. One day when school was on holiday he came to the lunchtime masters practice the team offered.

He met a man who frequented the midday swims—I like to picture the guy wearing a Speedo while pontificating at poolside with a cigar clenched in his teeth. He told Dave something like: “The 5:00am swim is for the working man. The noon swim is for the entrepreneur.

I’m not an entrepreneur. But, while I sometimes work days, nights, weekends, and occasionally several consecutive weeks non-stop, I also find myself with the opportunity in the off-season to go for a run mid-morning, lift weights at 3:30, or take my son to OMSI after breakfast on a relaxed Friday morning.

I try to remember this in mid-February on my 39th straight day in the office or on the road with the team. A cyclical schedule and utterly non-standard job create variety. I like the unpredictable and the changing routines. I like that the busy times are filled with energy and quality time working with young adults doing amazing things. I also appreciate when the quiet times allow me to rejuvenate, to write, and to prepare for the inspiring and energetic days ahead.

One of my coworkers is a gardener in her home life. I believe her guiltiest pleasure is plant sales at the various nurseries and home improvement stores throughout town. If you could only see the twinkle in her eye! One could subscribe to worse guilty pleasures.

I don’t garden. Worse, I am presently on the losing end of a protracted battle with my weeds and lawn—labels that might as well be interchangeable right now for they are one and the same.

I don’t want to be Stefan walking across the busy street with my paddle board lofted high over my head. But, I like picturing him living that small dream. I hope the commuters watching him walk past have their own way of immersing themselves in the city and of reveling in small moments for recreation and refueling.

You’ve gotta take a little time here and there.

When you take it I hope you can be wholly present to make the most of it.

And when we are not wrapped up in some kind of recreation I hope we can all remember these moments and know that we’re not living separate lives of work and play, but weaving every part together into days and lives we can be proud of, ones that let us rest easy and sleep well.

Bearer of Good News

Bearer of Good NewsSometimes people give us a gift and sometimes their gift is simply that they thought to share news of their own good fortune with us.

Today I was thinking back to mid-March when one of our junior women walked—nearly sprang—into our office to tell us, “I got the Rogers!”

Sofia meant a competitive summer research program for ten weeks where she’ll live and do field research near Big Sur in California.

Sarit and I both knew what she meant and we all got to celebrate her success. Sofia was on her way to class and had just popped in to give us the great news before hurrying out the door.

It’s an honor when we’re invited to rejoice with someone. Being the person someone thinks of when they have good news is a gift in itself.

Googleyness and the Dissident Teen

Googleyness and the Dissident TeenI’m sitting in a Starbucks in Santa Clara.

It’s stunning. Just a couple miles down the road from Google and you can practically smell it in the air. Or maybe that’s just the coffee. Although, when you get down to it coffee is probably what fueled the tech boom in the first place. Nonetheless, you can certainly see it in the proliferation of electrical outlets, charging stations, and people on laptops.

As an aside, you should watch The Internship if you haven’t seen it. Funny movie! As another aside, this movie first introduced me to the term Googleyness.

Within my earshot three teenage boys kill time, one with a Frappuccino, while another—this one with an iPad—laments his uncertainty over when he should leave and how early he should arrive home and if he were to get there before it ends—whatever it is—his mom will know he never went.

His anxiety is palpable.

“I guess I could just sit outside the house. I don’t know.”

This is the challenge of the ages. At least his age of leisure where he’s using his time with friends not doing whatever he should be doing to instead sit in Starbucks, taking his tablet out, getting frustrated at his situation, putting it back in his backpack. Loud exhale. Pull it back out. Tap the tablet and sigh.

Youth is hard!

I mean that. Relatively speaking. It’s hard in a relative way where the people going through it have limited experience with what life involves coupled with unreasonable levels of hormones coursing their bodies every moment of the day.

The only answer to this much turmoil is to get his your Frappuccino. Obviously. Which he has done.

Discussion follows about the unreasonableness of high school stipulations around attending some sort of special event or competition at another school. On multiple days. Involving driving on freeways—the 880 and the 17 in this case.

His buddies get up and leave, one saying something to him on the way out. He grabs his backpack and hurries after.

“No, it’s all right… Because my mom’ll kill me.”

No more so than if she had born witness to his utter waste of a sunny afternoon rent from the jaws of obligation.

Looking back, I realize a lot of adolescence is filled with seemingly interminable (and actually short) periods of boredom, the unbearableness of expectations and tedium when maybe I just wanted to… I don’t know… do something else.

There is a reason George Bernard Shaw said youth is wasted on the young. Almost everything is as intact as it’s ever going to be. Physicality, energy, recovery, skin tone. We only lack perspective and experience to remind us the grass was in fact greener in our own pasture than we realized at the time.

I like to think that if I’d blown off whatever it is, I would have done something with that time. Or maybe just enjoyed sitting with my friends and talking about anything else at all.

I like to think that.

But, who am I kidding. Now I just want a Frappuccino.

A Person to Make Leaning Unnecessary

A Person to Make Leaning Unnecessary“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.  Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.”

Maya Angelou

Heather often asks our son if he wants infinite kisses.  On just a couple of occasions, he has said yes.

More times, he grins and says, “No thank you,” while already bracing for the barrage.  Jakey gets his contradictorily brief dose of infinite kisses and giggles madly the entire time they fall on his neck and collarbone and face.

People have said she is a natural parent.  She would not agree.   That’s part of what makes it true.   I have no use for a label like natural and instead would observe the following:

To love someone this much takes time.

It grows and changes likes rings expanding a young tree’s girth.  The tree develops and just in this way love thickens and proliferates.  The change is not always linear and to imply there are not dips or doubts is foolish.  Challenges are plenty.

The journalist Ron Suskind spoke at the Lewis & Clark commencement ceremony yesterday.  After complimenting those families with the sense to sit in the shade, he quoted Shakespeare from As You Like It:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

In the play, Duke Senior adopted this stance involuntarily once he found himself thrust into a rough existence in the Forest of Arden.  This is a little like parenting.  Whether you chose it or it chose you, you are best served when you revel in the benefits of adversity.

And oh there is adversity.

Yesterday morning Heather was scrolling through old photos on a since-retired smartphone.  She showed me one from April 2013.  Jakey was about a month old and screaming.  His mouth was a vast O taking up much of his face like The Scream by the painter Edvard Munch.  She said she was spinning in a circle trying to calm him as she took the shot and that’s why the background was blurry.  Sometimes we would take a picture during those early fits—plenty of opportunities the first two months, pretty much any time he was awake.  It’s hard to say if the pictures were for posterity or a real-time reminder that, though it was excruciating, we were making it.  All three of us were getting through it together.

His gaping O-Face of terror is in the past.  Merely a recorded image of Jakey-that-was and our lives during that loud, exhausting, transformative April.

The best parts of Heather’s parenting are tough to label. The exchanged look between mother and son, between wife and husband. The true and heart-wrenching pain she feels when she and Jakey are apart.  Not guilt the way some moms describe feeling like they ought to be with their kids when they are doing something else.

Instead she feels sad for herself.  She has told people, “I just enjoy being with him so much.  I want to hang out with him all the time.”

In spite of this, no one has accused my wife of coming across overly sentimental.  That’s really more my department.  For example, I will regularly lament how fast Jakey is developing and growing up.  She will shrug and say, “It’s better than the alternative.”

Touché.

And of course it’s not all good—sometimes it is downright bad, a major strain for all involved.  There are moments when we both long for naptime or even a few minutes of quiet on the toilet.  Then we take a deep breath and realize it’s okay to laugh at the ridiculousness.

Or…

You can tag out.  We play parenting like a team sport.  Half the time the partner tagging in doesn’t even need to be told.  You sense it in body language or hear it in their voice.

“What’s that in your mouth?  Spit that out…  Open your mouth.”

She will go right in there, too.  It reminds me of the time my college roommate reached down the gullet of the neighbor’s basset hound who had nabbed some of his barbecued chicken.  It’s safety.  You just have to react.

On balance, she lives for that kid.  It’s mostly not reaching into his mouth for stuff he shouldn’t swallow or pulling him off the cat when he wants to hug the poor animal.

Without meaning to, her mothering drives me to try to be the best father possible.  Her parenting bar is set high.  Yet, she would not think this the case—so often those who are superlative are also modest.  Her job is monumental and her execution astounding.

“A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Heather kisses bumps and scrapes, but she also teaches Jakey how to brush dirt off on his pants or rub loose the little bits of gravel that embed in his hands when he gets going too fast and catches a toe on the road out front.

She prepares him for the important things in life.  This week they are working on his hotter/colder skills as he tries to find things he has misplaced around the house.  A foam football: “Colder Jakey, colder.  Turn around.  Warmer…  Warmer…  You’re getting close, you’re hot, you’re burning up!”

Just as importantly, he has a firm understanding of how to deliver an elbow drop.  Textbook form.  I thank our lucky stars he has not, as of the time of publication, executed any elbow drops on his little friends at daycare.  But, should the time come…

Heather corrects his grip on the wiffle ball bat and also on his plastic rake when he swings it around like a bat.  She teaches him proper etiquette in asking for more milk, more cashews, more dried cherries.  And she sometimes answers the same question over and over and over again.  Sometimes not.

Often at night we take one last look at our sleeping boy on the baby monitor and one of us comments on what a wonder he is.  The other parent inevitably affirms it is so.

As a mother, Heather is also a wonder.

It is so.A Person to Make Leaning Unnecessary

Handing Down the Courtesy Wave

Handing Down the Courtesy Wave“What you doin’?”

That’s how Jakey begins many a line of inquiry.  He shortens words like doing so he has an adorable, manly tone like a tiny Joey Tribbiani from Friends.

“What’s doggie doin’?”

“What Mr. Beachwood doin’?”

Traffic was crazy this morning.  I had to take the right turn onto Terwilliger and circle around the back way to daycare.  The alternative was merging into stopped traffic heading left up the hill.  Instead, I got a moving start and a turn lane to make a turn onto upper Boones Ferry followed by a nearly unobstructed route through the forest and past the cemeteries.  It’s that or wait out several light cycles of bumper-to-bumper crawl going the usual way.

I go with a little more mileage for a lot less headache.

Jakey’s question came when someone in a small, silver Acura held back and flashed their lights to offer me the space I needed to turn left through the gridlock.

I am a strong believer in the courtesy wave and I gave this driver a big one as I pulled across in front of them.

Now that Jakey’s car seat is turned around to forward-facing, he sees everything I do and asks about most of it.  He also gives the play-by-play of what’s happening around us on every drive.  City buses, bicycles, people walking dogs, a kayak on a roof rack.  He sees all.

So I spent part of our drive to daycare explaining what a courtesy wave is and why that person in the Acura merited one.  And you know what?  It felt good to know that, even if he’s only two and won’t be driving for a few more years, he just might grow up into the kind of guy who gives the courtesy wave.

It’s flat out good manners and it puts a little dose of friendly into the vicious world of commuting.  With as hurried and harried as many of us are, I will go so far as to posit that the courtesy wave may be key to preserving the very fabric of humanity.  At least the small, “privileged” portion of humanity who spend too much time in personal commuter vehicles.

We can all do our part.

I was telling this story to one of my college students a few minutes ago. I said that there are really only two hand gestures you can wave in traffic.  Now that Jakey is facing forward, I make sure I only utilize the real courtesy wave and not the other one—the discourtesy wave, if you will.  He’ll learn about that other gesture in due time, but not this week.

Hopefully.

Nothing would be both cuter and more profane than a toddler flipping the bird to someone who cut his dad off on the freeway after passing on the right while weaving in and out of traffic like someone living out his NASCAR wet dream in a souped-up Impreza with the foot-high spoiler and two fat tailpipes.

Easy Jakey, keep those middle fingers holstered.

My mom brought me a newspaper clipping recently (okay, several clippings) and one was this short piece about the courtesy wave by Celia Rivenbank.  It’s great.  My mom said it reminded her of my writing, which I took as a compliment.

I read the article and said, “What part reminded you of my writing, the snarky, ranting part?”

“Well, yes.”

I still take it as a compliment.

Speaking Ill

Speaking IllOf the dead.

Usually it’s discouraged.  But, I’ll get to that.

I am sitting in Village Coffee this morning in Multnomah Village.  I am seated in the window nook in the center of three old theatre-style folding chairs.  My laptop is on a TV tray.

Four older men are seated around a tiny round table in the middle of the small seating area.  I think I notice gatherings like this more now because, while I’m not old, I’m also not young and I can imagine a point in the future where I might like to sit in a coffee shop with a group of peers shooting the breeze on a weekday morning.  Okay, to be honest, it sounds good now and yet I’m here writing and enjoying my coffee alone.

I digress.

Their group has a ringleader.  Or at the very least a conversational driver.  He is probably sixty-five with a thick head of gray hair parted just off center and combed back to either side.  A full white goatee—wider than Colonel Sanders’ beard, but still southern gentlemanly.  Black dress shirt unbuttoned a couple buttons at the neck beneath a black wool pea coat with a quarter-sized peace sign button on the left breast.

His voice accounts for 90% of the conversation.

While I was ordering, he referenced high-hatting someone.  One of the other men laughed and motioned liked a jazz drummer and made that cymbal sound you can make by blowing air out through your teeth.  Tsssss-Ts-Ts-Tsssssss…

The ringleader shook his head and explained the term originates elsewhere: someone who tries to show off or one-up someone like the men with the big, tall hats back in the day.  He was correct.

I already know this guy’s M. O.  Right now he is rejoicing that his reference was just obscure enough to warrant explaining.  You see, explaining is what he loves best.

I had him pegged.

Then he introduced a new topic.

“I thought I’d be happy when Steve Jobs died…”

Whoa, what?

Yeah, he said that.

“But, I tell you what drives me nuts is this deification that’s going on. You’d think he was fucking Edison or something.  He was just a driven asshole.”

They discussed his greed and desire to make billions of dollars.

“He just wanted to make his mark and change the world because he was adopted and nobody loved him.”

Yikes.  If that’s all it takes.

Talk about distilling it down to the basics.  You’d think Steve Jobs killed people with his bare hands.  For the record, I have heard he was a jerk and I’ve also heard he was incredibly thoughtful, creative, and collaborative.  It’s like this guy in the coffee shop just saved me untold hours reading a stack of Steve Jobs biographies.

Now they’re onto Alcatraz history.  A fort during the Civil War. Someone wanted to build a hotel there.  Indian rights to the land.  The government…

Their conversation flows across time and geography.  A balding man in a teal sweatshirt and blue jeans has joined them after ordering coffee from the counter.  And one of the original four just departed.

The man who has said almost nothing has a newspaper folded before him on the table.  I wonder if he longs to open it and dive into solitude or whether he enjoys this conversation.

While studying the print before him, he says, “Jeb Bush is heading down to Puerto Rico.”

The ringleader says, “Maybe he should run for something down there.”

His mates laugh and he continues, “But, I guess if Hillary can…”

Keep in mind I am eavesdropping.  So I’m bound to miss a few snippets here and there.  It’s a coffee shop after all, with grinding beans and steaming milk.  A young barista in a tie-dyed Grateful Dead T-shirt and black yoga pants comes from around the counter to sweep the tile floor and tidy the condiments in between customers.  Patrons who I assume are regulars call her Natalie.

And by the way, are they even called condiments in a coffee shop?  There are dispensers of whole milk, skim, and cream.  Sugar packets, sweetener, a cinnamon shaker, and a jar of plastic spoons.

I didn’t come here to write about patrons, and yet I’m invested in this assemblage.  Two more companions excuse themselves and leave.  Now it’s just the ringleader and baldy new guy.

“Harley Davidson inadvertently, accidentally invented the retro motorcycle movement…”

It’s possible this man knows everything.  And would be willing to tell you about it.

New guy is the next to leave so only the ringleader remains.  He has by now donned his black felt beret.

After rising, he places his coffee mug on the counter and thanks the barista before leaving.

Now that I have ceased eavesdropping, I’ll be able to get down to the writing I came here to do.

After a coffee refill.

Courage Comes in Starting

Courage Comes in StartingStarting is hard.

Often much harder than continuing.

The time between your alarm going off and when you actually get out of bed is inevitably more agonizing than twenty minutes later when your morning routine is underway.

For most swimmers, the act of jumping into the pool at 6:00am is incomprehensibly more difficult than the fifth or sixth lap of warmup moments later.

Beginning a difficult conversation is excruciating while having it is often both productive and far less horrendous than you built it up to be.

Getting up. Jumping in. Embracing necessary conflict.

Courage comes in starting.

Earth Day, Part II: The Earth Loves a Doughnut

Earth Day Part II

I started my Earth Day with a free doughnut.

Which is funny because when I made a pot of coffee this morning to take to the office, I thought, “Man, this would really go great with a doughnut.”

Because that’s how people think in their heads.  Right?  Okay, probably the transcript for my internal monologue would read more like:

Coffee……  Mmmmm, coffee……  (SUGAR. SUGAR. SUGAR…….)  DOUGHNUT!

It’s funny, I never understood the attraction of a treat like biscotti until I started drinking coffee.  Something about that over-sweet with the distinct not of coffee.  Makes both better.

I had planned on enjoying my morning coffee—plain old dark roast—at my desk from a thermos the first hour or two of my workday.  I would crave a doughnut, but I would not eat one.  I have a policy about buying my own doughnuts.  I don’t do it.  Not unless I am taking out-of-town guests downtown to VooDoo.  Then and only then I buy a doughnut, you better believe it.  In those rarified circumstances there is a Portland Crème, an apple fritter, or an ODB in my future.

Turns out, today was cause for celebration on several fronts.

  1. It’s Earth Day and I enjoy living on Earth.
  2. Plus, we had a couple commitments for next season in the past day, both great swimmers we’ve been working with for a long time.  Great teammates joining great teammates!
  3. AND, free doughnuts from a pop-up tent at the first entrance to the undergrad campus.

My wife summed it up when I texted her about my good fortune: “The earth does love a doughnut.”

So true.

I think that we humans sometimes celebrate in funny ways.  And I love it.  I can only assume the doughnuts were there because it’s the same place that groups sometimes serve coffee and doughnuts to people commuting by bike to campus or on foot between our law and undergrad campuses.  Sort of like: “You’re making less of a dent on the environment, here’s a doughnut and some coffee.”

Or maybe it’s a matter of association.  I acknowledge we should protect our natural world and I thereby receive a free doughnut.  The two will be linked in my subconscious from here on out.

No matter the reason, my apple fritter was the highlight of my morning in the office.  Right up until free pizza at our staff meeting.

I realize I am just as food-motivated as my cat.

When she is hungry, our cat will wind around our ankles and meow.  Or in the middle of the night she will risk having a pillow or magazine thrown at her for licking plastic bags while we try to sleep.  Anything to let us know she is hungry.

I, on the other hand, will drive past a tent serving doughnuts, park my car faraway, and walk a few hundred meters up a large hill in the opposite direction of my office.  All for that sweet treat that I know will make my coffee and my morning better.

So worth it.

Did you know Earth Day began in 1970?  My first Earth Day memory is of the celebration in downtown Portland I went to with my mom when I was a kid—so, round about the mid-80s.  I remember feeling like Earth Day was something brand new that year.  Turns out, not.  Funny how our own first exposure to something doesn’t always bely its history.

In spite of the way I’ve made out like the most pivotal part of my Earth Day was the free doughnut, I care about the bigger picture, too.  Hopefully I made this clear when I railed against throwing cigarette butts from cars recently.

April is apparently my month for environmental diatribes, so it’s like I have been preparing for Earth Day for weeks in advance.

To wrap up April’s Earth focus, I cobbled together a few examples of ways we can chip in, make a dent, or otherwise stave off the destruction of our ecosystems:

  1. Use green power.   If you live in Portland, you can choose to have 100% of your electricity usage offset by renewable energy sources.  Will every city offer this?  Probably not.  Can you look into it?  Definitely.
  2. Little dents here and there.  Go two degrees cooler on the thermostat in winter.  Use blinds to block the hottest summer sun to avoid using as much AC (if you even have AC).  And pay attention to hidden energy-sucks like missing or rodent-ravaged insulation.
  3. Build green habits.  We all know about bike commuting.  If it’s feasible, try it.  Otherwise see where you can cut out an extraneous trip to the grocery store that you might plug in around your next commute.  In that same vein, I started occasionally running to the nearest Safeway in the evening and packing home what I can fit in my backpack when we are low on something mid-week.
  4. Read this list for some basic I-knew-this-already reminders and a few ideas you may not have considered.

Like most habits, you may have to work to form it in the beginning, but once the ball is rolling, it’s easier to keep it going.  There are a lot of people on this planet and we all have work ahead of us.  Be the person in your household or on your block or in your apartment complex who takes a step in the right direction.  One step here and one there.  Someone will notice and someone will follow your lead.

In closing I’ll say that while Earth Day is not all about free doughnuts, it’s still a little about free doughnuts for me and I’m okay with that.

Excuse me, but this flaming trash is yours

Excuse me, but this flaming trash is yoursSome people do things that still astonish me even after I’ve seen them a hundred times.

An Olympic gymnast springing far too high into the air and doing what appears far too many flips before touching down.  Or the way my wife can type speedily into Excel and the program actually knows what to do with the formula.  And honestly, pretty much anyone who plays the piano well—I mean, come on, it’s like they have control over all ten fingers at the same time!

There is another act that never ceases to amaze me.  It’s when I see people throw burning cigarettes out their car windows.

Cigarette litter harms our world in countless ways.  You can think of those butts like tiny, poisonous warheads known to cause death and billions of dollars in damage through wildfire.

I see red.

Not just the embers spraying from the lit end of the cigarette, but eyes-narrowed, jaw clamped down kind of red.  The head-shaking anger of a person fighting the urge to react in an extreme way.  Tamping down the growing need to Hulk-out in traffic.  Struggling against the desire to roll my own window down and scream at the top of my lungs, “That’s littering!”

I don’t always win that last fight either, I tell you what.

As a kid I played a videogame called Spy Hunter.  I cruised around in a sleek, black sports car souped-up with machine guns, missiles, and an oil slick maker.  I no longer remember what my mission was, but I do remember taking out enemies ahead of me on the freeway with my heavy firepower.

This same image flashes across my brain when I see someone toss their cigarette out the window.

Some people are brash.  Seventy miles an hour on the freeway at night.  An orange flare flicks out the driver side window, tumbles, and sends up fireworks off the roadway.  I startle at the brightness in the black of open road until I realize what I’m seeing.  And then…

I am Spy Hunter.  Missiles locked on target.

Other reprobates are sneaky.  At a stoplight they dangle an arm out, lower their hand along the door, and gently drop the cigarette still smoldering to the asphalt, real smooth like.

I saw that!

You’re not as sly as you think and it’s still littering.

I am now my very own version of the Michael Douglas character in “Falling Down” who snaps and begins standing up against daily injustice.  The aspirational me steps out of my car, approaches the open window, and chucks the smoking butt back in.

The audacity.

(Theirs, not mine.  After all, I’m only imagining doing something inappropriate; they’re actually doing it).  How does someone get this way?

I’m sure this is a way bigger deal to me than to most people, but I can live with that. In the modern classic “Office Space,” someone asks the character named Michael Bolton why he doesn’t just change his name to Mike if he’s tired of people referencing the pop music star by the same name.  His answer: “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

Exactly, Michael.

Cigarette butts are trash.  They are usually at least a little bit on fire still.  What kind of person thinks it’s okay to chuck litter, burning or not, out a car window?

Did you know cigarettes are the most littered item in America?  They are so prevalent as to be completely commonplace on our sidewalks, hiking trails, and city parks.  Which means they also end up in our waterways and wildlife.

I remember some time in my early teens when one of my best friends decided to try to smoke an old cigarette butt.  Don’t try to make sense of it, I certainly can’t.  He was an experimenter.  My point is, it took him just minutes to find an appropriate specimen along the rural country road near his home.  It didn’t go very well, but it did lead to a smoking habit, so…

Let’s be honest about the practice of smoking.  Whether someone is happy about their smoking or not, it often leads to addiction and everything about addiction says it is hard to kick.  We can divorce the litter issue from smokers in general.  Smokers I know don’t chuck their cigarette refuse or any other debris out the car window.  They’re good citizens.

In fact, there are whole movements out there to curb this habit.  They offer tips on programming around education and prevention.  Several municipalities in Britain have toyed around with the clever and entendre-filled slogan “Don’t be a tosser.

Even some smokers’ rights groups have joined this push by policing their own, so to speak.  That’s probably key since we’re already addressing a habit people are sensitive about in the first place.

My astonishment will continue when I see things like gymnasts soaring through the air or people who play the piano well.  And each time someone tosses a cigarette butt out the window, I’ll hope a cop also sees it and slaps them with a hefty ticket.

Failing that, I will still channel a vigilante Michael Douglas on his very bad day and dream about flicking that cigarette right back through the window.  Or I will picture myself behind the wheel in Spy Hunter.  Machine guns ready.

Just a Little Off

Just a little offI followed this truck along Broadway and over the Broadway Bridge last week.

Which is to say, I followed the tow truck that was towing this beat-up old mail truck.

Every time I looked the delivery truck square in the face, it felt just a little off.  I knew it was being towed, but there is something eerie about looking at the front of a car that is facing you head on while also moving backward at the same speed you’re following.

It’s a little like turning the wrong way down a one-way street.  Even before you put your finger on it, that gut intuition part of your brain knows something is off.

Hypothetically speaking.  Because turning the wrong way down a one-way street would be foolish and ill-conceived.  Right?

There are plenty of experiences that are just a little off.  Say you’re in a hotel bed or someone’s guest room and you wake up in the middle of the night.  You have to coax your brain through the fog to remember where you are and why.  Something seems off.  Maybe the dream is still pulling you under and the foreign room is enough to hold you in limbo longer than normal.  So you push yourself up to sitting and turn your head side to side in a dark room to make sense of the unexpected distance between bed and wall, a doorway on the incorrect side of the room, the wrong light bleeding through a window.

Or how about this: Have you ever been talking with a friend when suddenly an entire sentence seems like it was in another language?  Missing a word or two at the beginning can throw everything off when we’re straining to make sense.

“Wait… Can you say that again?”

This not quite coherence, this off-ness, is a marvelous land. It is the place where we grapple with what we think we know and what eludes us. The mail truck is backing away from me across the bridge and slowing to rest at the red light.

Artists use this space all the time.

Some painters try to capture exactly what is there (and isn’t this a lie in itself, colors on flat canvas standing in for sturdy mountains and trees?). Others hack straight into this idea of perception and what it means to reduce a vibrant, three dimensional world to art.

Magritte anyone?

Or maybe what artists accomplish elevates the world to an art form.  Something is certainly more than a little off in many a Picasso portrait.  Ears where they shouldn’t ought to be and what have you.

U2’s front man Bono once sang, “Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief.”

A line he lifted or amalgamated from somewhere else, no doubt, thereby making his own point.

We spend a lot of time trying to make sense of our world.  We expect it to add up most of the time.  Yet, as kids, much of what we see makes little sense to us.  Everything is questions and more questions:

“What daddy doin’?”

“Where Mr. Beachwood go?”

“Where fire truck go?”

“What’s that? What’s that? What’s that?”

This is the time in our life when we learn rapidly, get to know our world, figure stuff out in a hurry.

For the most part, kids take the foreign and the just a little off in stride better than we adults do.

Strange is merely something new to sort out.

Life is puzzles and mystery.  How you feel about this makes all the difference.

Earlier, I called this place of unsureness a marvelous land.  Marvelous doesn’t always mean comfortable, but it does mean opportunity.  Opportunity to tune up the part of our mind that figures stuff out.  As well as the part that quickly comes to terms with not understanding exactly what is going on.

In fact, it’s the latter skill that might be the most important for us. Existing in and with uncertainty.  About our planet, our future, our abilities.  Being uncertain and still moving forward instead of succumbing to paralysis.

Just a little off can be marvelous.

Stay sharp, stay humble, and remain confident that you will either figure it out or things will be okay when you don’t.

Dirt pile for all

Dirt pile for allThere’s a boy outside our house right now climbing on the same dirt pile Jakey likes to climb on.

Everything about his body language says he is having a blast.  He seems to be on a walk with his grandmother.  Something in her body language says that she doesn’t love him climbing my dirt pile, but I imagine it’s mostly because our garage door is open like somebody’s home.  It might feel intrusive that she’s letting him play in our front yard.

It doesn’t feel intrusive to me.

It feels like the most natural thing for a kid to do.  If Jakey wasn’t napping, I’d take him out to play with this kid.

Both our neighbor girls have climbed on the dirt pile.  It calls to them.  When I look at it, I mostly see an out-of-place pile beside an unfinished landscaping project.  Once, I climbed piles just like this.  Wore out the knees on my blue jeans, wore out the patches my mom sewed in, and filled my cuffs with soil and sand.Worm

Now that I have a son, I can see it both ways.  Through his eyes—quite like those of my youth—and through my boring grownup eyes.

Some might call the pile an attractive nuisance (and for the record, I’d rather no one sued me).  But, I think of it as the most attractive feature in our yard.  Not only can you climb the pile, run down it, or slide down it on your bottom.  You can dig for earthworms, too.  They are many and they wriggle in a small hand like a tiny magical beast.

My son loves this dirt pile.

I hesitate to think of getting rid of it, though it will eventually become part of my yard again once the steps and path are complete.

For now, climb on.

Spring, Global Warming, Wear Your Helmet

SpringIn the movie Groundhog Day, a well-dressed, portly man approaches Bill Murray’s character in the hallways of a B&B and asks, “Think it’ll be an early Spring?”

Bill Murray says, “I’m predicting March 21st.”

Spring got an early start in Oregon this year.  Owing to our near absence of winter.

No one told the white and pink blossoms on the neighbors’ plum tree to wait on the calendar.  Their dazzling pastels burst forth weeks ago and have already dropped most of their millions of petals onto the mulch below, over our yard, and on the landscaping project on my hillside that stands a chance of one day being complete.  Maybe.  Hopefully?

I can’t remember a year where we got no snow in Portland.  Not a dash in the air or the faintest white carpeting on plants or grass or deck.  None.  Some of the ski resorts on Mt. Hood never even got going.  Just dirt and grass on their hillsides with maybe a snowdrift or two off near the forests lining the slopes.

I won’t lament the loss of one Pacific Northwest winter.  But, I worry about what it means for summer.  For our mountain runoff when there is no more snow pack to run off.  For forest fires and the people who fight them.

I worry about whether this is our climate now and what that will mean for the following winter and its spring and summer.

I am a skier and have had the same conversation with fellow mountain goers many times over the year.  It goes like this:

“It’s a bummer for the ski resorts, but if this keeps up and they go under, that will be the least of our worries.”

Spoiler Alert: I’m not a climatologist or even an amateur weatherman.

This winter in the PNW could be just a blip.  But, why would it be?

The globe is warming.

Shoot, I forgot to say SPOILER ALERT.  Well, the cat’s out of the bag now.  Deniers and doubters take heed.  It’s getting hotter.

Yes, it’s been cold on the east coast.  Yes, snow dumped on them this winter.  Global warming carries more extremes and worse storms (you can look it up).  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Weather is what is happening outside this week.  Climate is the decade by decade trajectory.

Denying the change is like saying, “I know a guy who drove drunk three times last month and didn’t get in a wreck.  It’s obviously not more dangerous than driving sober.”

Maybe climate change denial is not just the same, but I wanted to get in a plug for driving sober.

My point is, when many scientists—let’s be honest, the VAST MAJORITY of scientists—say the Earth is warming, there are going to be people who take a specific, localized experience, prop it up, and call it a counterargument.

We can’t stop wrongheaded thinking, but we can certainly point it out.

I would like to think denying climate change lies largely with those whose financial or political (ergo, still financial) interests lie in ignoring our reality.  Sadly—I think sadly is the right emotion—that’s not the whole story.  This article by Brad Balukjian digs into why so many people don’t believe humans are causing climate change.

It’s horrifying how few Americans believe humans cause climate change.  Come on people.Blossoms

Speaking of safety and using your noggin: WEAR A BICYCLE HELMET.

Jakey and our friend Chris and I went to the nature playground in Westmoreland Park recently.  On our way out, we took a few moments to check out a big, shiny Giant mountain bike whose owner had just cruised by us and leaned it against a fence.  The boy of maybe six told us it was his early birthday present that morning.

Shiny.

I told him about the Giant I had as a kid.

After Jakey had spun the pedal several times, I coaxed him to thank the boy.  Then I wished the kid a happy birthday and we departed.  I called after the boy, “Keep wearing your helmet!”

He said, “I will!”

Bike helmets.  Seatbelts in automobiles.

Stupid not to folks.  Wear them.

You’re not too good for it and you’re not the only one who loses if you splatter across the landscape.

Back to the climate.  (Have you noticed segues are out the window today?)

None of us alone can put a stop to global warming, though “believing” in it would be a good start.

But, we can wear our seatbelt.  Or better yet, wear our bike helmet, leave the car home, and save a couple gallons of gas.

And regardless of when the blossoms pop, enjoy them.  Same with Autumn colors.

We should do what we can for the planet and should care about what happens for our children.  We just get this one spin through life so we have to live it in a way that makes the planet worth saving.

Regardless of when spring arrives.

525,600 Minutes… x2

525,600 minutesBy the time most people read this, my son will be two.

I wrote this next part a year ago with the approach of Jakey’s 1st birthday. I never finished it. I felt like it was about time.

Rewind your mind one year. Join me… in Spring 2014.

_________________________________________

Birthdays.

I have never anticipated any of my own birthdays this heavily or thought of the approaching week and day so often as the big day approaches for my little guy. Not my 16th birthday, not my 21st, nor my 30th.

If you’re familiar with the Broadway musical Rent, you no doubt remember the song “Seasons of Love” with its catchy refrain about the 525,600 minutes that make up a calendar year. Tonight while we were bathing Jakey that lyric popped into my head. If you know the song, you won’t have a hard time understanding how it sticks in your head.

Recently, while sorting stacks of books and papers, I came across a handful of photos my mom printed for us last summer—likely from WalMart or a Fred Meyer photo kiosk. She is like her own photography service, trafficking in family memories, nostalgia, and keepsakes. She visits our home, marvels at Jakey, chronicles moments of our life, and sets to work churning out these fresh memories to send to grandparents, family friends, aunts and uncles.

I am nothing if not nostalgic, so I rifled through shot after shot. Each with Jakey only four months grown last July: Lying on his back looking mostly immobile; held in my arms, kinda lumpy and squishy-looking; in his mother’s arms with that spacey, confused look babies wear much of their early months.

This set me to thinking about how much changes in the first year.

He was precious and I loved him back then. Now he is precious, I love him, and he jabbers, laughs hysterically, chases the cat, and throws balls in my general direction. He’s a rock star at being a baby as he approaches his first birthday. When those photos were taken, he had hardly passed beyond the sheltered uselessness of the aptly-named “fourth trimester.”

We play together in his romper room—this used to be a dining room and now lives on as a protected habitat partitioned from living room and kitchen by sturdy child gates. It keeps the baby in, though it cannot contain the blocks, balls, colorful keyboards, and baby apparel he delights in dropping over the fence or depositing through the bars. Often, I sit on the floor with him, legs spread out straight and my back against the futon.

I become a play structure.

When he first became mobile, Jakey would drag himself up the seemingly monolithic height of my shin or thigh and rest there, panting with his chest pressed against my leg. Then he would gather his knees beneath him and launch out over my leg, completely unprepared to stop his plummet to the carpet with anything besides his face. Sometimes I would ease him into a softer landing. Other times, I let him crash and rug burn in the controlled environment of the romper room. He would thud down on his face, legs angling up into the air as he slid along the carpet.

A little groan would escape his baby mouth before he would take off squirming to more explore terrain.

Times have changed.

The romper room is more like a demolition derby course, one lean, energetic baby careening around and around. He whacks toys into submission with his xylophone mallet. He stands at his plastic piano banging out tunes before overturning the whole thing onto its keys like a tiny, drunken rock ‘n roll bad boy. He walks with his multi-colored walker as the machine belts out the now-familiar refrain, “Welcome to our learning farm, there’s so much to do!”

There really IS so much to do.

As the final days of our first year with this little guy pass by, I am struck by his development. These 525,600 minutes fly. In fact, as new parents, that’s about the same number of times people have told us that kids grow up so fast.

Their eyes unfocus when they say it, like they’re remembering their own tiny drunken rock star smashing guitars and setting hotel rooms on fire. It’s a wistful look that conveys genuine love tinged with nostalgia for young life developing in your care, before your eyes.

Now, when Jakey encounters my legs, he barrels right over. His arms support the landing. I’m a speed bump at best.

Or a ladder.

Sometimes he climbs up my chest, places a foot in my gut, and launches off me like a climbing foothold to summit the lower peak of our futon. Having gained this elevated position, he’ll survey the room before going after whatever had been placed there “out of reach.”

Cell phone. Slurpee cup on the back of the arm rest. Those kinds of things.

This birthday is merely a launching pad to another miraculous year. He was a rock star at being a baby and he’ll be a rock star at toddlerhood and being a little kid, too.

_________________________________________

Back to the future… Fast forward to 2015.

Tomorrow is his 2nd birthday.

As far as tricks, he is more like a 1-year old than a 1-year old is like a newborn infant, but……. The changes during year two are still dramatic.

This morning I put him into his car seat and he launched halfway over the far side to snatch his stuffed monkey from the seat.

“Monkey see!”

I said, “Monkey see?”

“See car seat, Monkey!”

As we drove, he showed Monkey various sights along our route. By partway to daycare Jakey has usually begun requesting, “See fire station. Go past fire station.”

I always try to go past the fire station—unless the traffic on Terwilliger is egregious and I can’t bear to wait several lights to get through.

Today was a winner and the fire station door was open to boot. One big, red, shiny fire truck in all its glory. I pulled to the side of the street and lowered Jakey’s window so he and Monkey had the clearest view possible.Fire truck

“What do you see, buddy?”

“Truck.”

“What kind?”

“Fire truck.”

We like to go deep here. Really dig into the specifics.

I gave it thirty seconds or so and said, “You ready to go to daycare and get some breakfast?”

Over my shoulder I heard a barely audible, “Uh-uh.”

“No?”

“Uh-uh.”

This is his new way of declining. It’s like he’s a teenager already. We gave it another minute. I told him it was time to go and eased back onto the street.

I looked in my rearview and saw him—reflected in the car seat mirror—with one hand on Monkey’s arm and waving the tiny monkey paw at the fire station as we drove away.

I am one to reflect.

I think about how many wake-ups and bath times and bedtimes make up a year. How many hours I spend with that boy and how many apart.

Parenting has been both a speedy ride and a long trek. It is both a whirlwind and a slog. I spend enough time as a coach preaching about focusing on the process—not the outcome—that I feel like I should be able to revel in the day-to-day process of his life and his growth.

Mostly I do.

Every day he seems changed. His voice is different. The sweet way he says mama or daddy sounds a little different from his lips. He balances better and manipulates tools and toys with startling dexterity.

This is the same week where I wished Ron another happy, healthy year. Now I’m on the precipice of a third year beginning with this boy who owns my heart.

This morning Heather asked if he knew when his birthday was. He stared at her.

We explained it was TOMORROW!

He went into what I think of as his “long squeal” and did his happy dance—running in place, chin on chest, like playing the old Nintendo track and field video game with the controller mat where you piston your arms and legs as fast as possible.

Another year begins. I want to see his happy dance again and again. He is young and he lives as unbridled emotion every waking moment.

Heather told him, “Today’s your last day of being one.”

Life moves awfully fast. I suspect the next 525,600 minutes will pass in a blur.Picaso

Reminiscence

Reminiscence“Do you remember when he learned to walk?”

Heather asked me this tonight in the kitchen long after Jakey was in bed.

We’re in a bit of a countdown to the young man’s second birthday and it makes us nostalgic about all the milestones along the way.

I recounted his pulling up onto anything that would support him, edging along walls and furniture, and then eventually toddling peg-legged and drunken the few paces between Heather and I seated opposite one another on the living room floor.

She mentioned his giggly little bursts of laughter at his own accomplishment.

How far he’s come.

He now manages the daily obstacle course of his local world: scaling, hurdling, maneuvering, crawling under, or jumping off of anything he comes across. He teeters and totters a lot and falls down less than before.

I submit this video as evidence of how far a year will take you.

He is a wonder.

Sure, he is doing the same things that billions of other children do around this age.

Yet, he is ours and he’s doing them for the first time.

Addition by Ron: A Birthday Ode

Keep your chin up“I’m now living my 85th year.”

That’s how Ron put it this morning.  He was in our swimming pool during lap swim, his usual lane 8.

Privilege is too artless a word to describe how lucky I feel to know Ron these past 7 ½ years I’ve lived in Portland.  He is easily on my shortlist for best human I have met in my life.  That’s not an official award category, but when we meet these people we would do well to keep them in our lives.

We hadn’t crossed paths in a few weeks so I went onto the deck to flag Ron down and say hello.  He mentioned today is his birthday.

I asked about his celebration plans.  Turns out he and his wife had done dinner out and the symphony over the weekend.  He spoke about the warm welcome he gets at one of his favorite steak restaurants and how long he’s been going there.

Today, he said, was, “Phone calls and daughters coming over.”

I told him my son’s 2nd birthday is coming up later this week.  The corner of Ron’s eyes crinkled as he talked about the wonder of kids that age.  He smiled up as I gushed about Jacob and all his new tricks and skills.

Ron stood waist-deep in the shallow end and I sat on the pool deck in front of him.

After ten minutes, we agreed to let one another get back to our day.  It’s an interesting relationship when both parties feel like they don’t want to take too much of the other’s time.

I could talk to Ron all day.

I nearly ran back to my office I was so jazzed. I said to Sarit, “I want to try to live my life so that I look at the world the way Ron does.”

Not once has he failed to have that effect on me—even following his lengthy absence from lap swim after which he returned to tell me about his heart attack and resultant bypass surgery.  I was rocked with a moment of sadness at the idea I might never have seen him again.  Yet, nothing in his words hinted that he wanted pity.  He was simply glad he was cleared to hit the pool again, even mentioned his physician attributing his survival to his regular swimming routine.

His success and the fact he’s still alive to swim laps at 84 are no accident.  Ron is accomplished.  He is connected to the community.  While congenial, you get the sense her would take no flak from anyone.  Better yet, he probably doesn’t have to because calmness and professionalism flood off him and people can’t help but soak it in.

Ron is a present-day Jedi knight.

His handshake is always firm and generous.  His eye contact doesn’t just make you feel like you matter, it makes you know it.

When I talk to him, I am energized.  I feel better about myself, my work, and everything about the future.  That’s no small impact.  And that is every single time.

I try to think about whether I leave people better off at the end of a conversation.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  It’s not a bad measure for our days.  Am I adding or subtracting?

The more you add and the more adders you surround yourself with the better.

Ron adds beyond what I can measure.  May he swim smoothly through this 85th year and into the next.

The Color of Music

Music Note ColorOur friend Arri said to my son, “Jakey, what’s your favorite color?”

He paused a few seconds and I expected him to say yellow.  He identifies most things as yellow to begin with even when they’re not. It’s one of the first words he learned, but I actually think he’s being contrary in a developmentally appropriate way.

Instead he said, “Music.”

The mind of a toddler is complex.  Just think about all the ways that is a great answer!

Music and color do go together and each holds great sway over our emotions.  Colors are sometimes used in music notation and composers modeled work after feelings derived from great works of art.  Opera, ballet, theatre: each uses lighting and set design to match colors to the music.

In a study at Cal Berkeley, scientists recorded the colors people associated with various classical music pieces.  Even with a palette of 37 colors to choose from, there were high levels of similarity between colors chosen by a wide range of participants in the U.S. and Mexico.

Since reading this article I’ve been trying to picture the colors I associate most with the music I hear.  Cool study and you can read the original research here.

Jakey saw his first laser light show yesterday at OMSI.  Great example of color gelling perfectly with music to rock your mind and body in a desired way.

A lot of fireworks shows now incorporate music scores, as well.  You can bet the big, booming classical music finish is going to have a lot of reds and other striking colors.

People with synesthesia might hear a sound and picture a specific color or think the sound looks a certain color.  The condition is broader and can involve the linking of any two or more senses.  For a treat, you can watch this beautiful short video.

And since we’re well down this rabbit hole now, I’ll suggest one more video, with credit to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings for pointing me to it. This is animation by Esteban Diácono to music by Ólafur Arnalds.

It is stunning:

What did that boy mean when he said his favorite color is music?

I’ll probably never know—and please note I am not suggesting he has synesthesia—but I like thinking he is connecting things on a deeper level.  Deeper than grown-ups, at least.

Certainly he’s young enough not to have as many mental blocks or barriers built against the free association that links concepts and experiences.

I hope his favorite color will continue to be music for a while longer.

Favorite Places Part II—Paths in the Forest

Favorite PlacesPeople go new places for vacation because these places are different.

Or sometimes we might return to the same place year after year because it was once a new place that struck a chord with us. We love having a version of that same experience upon each return. For some people it’s Cabo or Maui. For my wife’s family it happens to be our annual horse ranch trip to British Columbia, a summer excursion well into its third decade now.

What if it’s not a vacation, but a nearby place we return to often such that it is woven into our daily or weekly routine and becomes part of the fabric of our life?

These places decorate my life. They change with the season or the decade, receding over time, but remaining in memory.

Some are long vistas from a high place like the viewpoints along the 5-mile drive in Tacoma’s Point Defiance State Park. Heather and I have run hundreds of trail miles through the park and passed by each view hundreds of times.

There is the pull-off facing north over the sound above the churning crossing to Vashon Island. Fishing boats swirl in eddies below and once during college a fox walked up to my car window and sat down. He stared at me a long time willing me to give him a bite of my Taco Bell.

No fox, it’s my bean burrito and you’re a wild animal.

Two confessions about the fox encounter.

First: I finally threw him a tiny piece of tortilla because, well… because of the eyes he made at me.

Second: I regret doing so to this day. In the scheme of big and small regrets it ranks fairly low, but still. Don’t feed the wildlife.

Farther along that same loop are views of the Narrows, a mile-wide stretch of water bisecting shorelines so long enjoined by one bridge between the city of Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula. Now two bridges arc across this rushing, tidal expanse of saltwater, altering daily commute times and the skyline. I once paddled a canoe north along the east shoreline with my roommate Jeremy. The tidal exchange reached a point where we made exactly zero progress in passing a large and distinct log on shore so we steered around and floated back toward our dock.

Next viewpoint, Fort Nisqually, where Heather and I held our wedding rehearsal dinner. The same quiet picnic dinner where we were gently cautioned by two embarrassed police officers about drinking wine in the park. Someone had reported us. We stood amongst friends, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles and agreed that yes, we were and sure, we’d be glad to go ahead and put it back in the car.

We miss this park dearly.

It overflows with memories of our runs there. The trails we named for the time we saw a baby deer—“Baby Deer Trail”—or for the place I was stung on the calf by a bee on a hot summer afternoon—“Bee Sting Trail.” Also, “The Spine” and “Ridge Trail.”

Favorite PlacesLast Thanksgiving holiday we scored free grandparent babysitting and returned to run in Point Defiance on Black Friday. We ran under torrential downpour along muddy trails transformed to streams. It was the opposite of fighting throngs of shoppers at the mall. Deafening, crowded commerce was nowhere in sight as we skirted puddled trails for a time and then succumbed to running straight up the middle of paths awash in four, five, six inches of late November rain.

The first few steps into puddles are freezing as water seeps through mesh. After that your feet just clomp along the trail making a sloshing sound like running on sponges.

We had dressed for the temperature, but not such rainfall. Every square inch of my polypro top clung to my skin. Gloves, soggy. Headband, underwear, running pants all drenched. We were steaming and soaked such that the car windshield never fully cleared on the ride home and I swiped one shivering hand over and over again across the glass to make my way through town.

It took an hour’s time and a long, hot shower at my in-laws to warm back up.

This was our return to a place we cherished, to trails we recognized with every twist and turn. Yet awash in one of the heaviest rains I’ve ever seen the park was new and different, just as it was safe and familiar.

We left Point Defiance behind in our move to Oregon.

Building a life in a new place often amounts to finding ways to keep some things the same.

In our new hometown we set about finding a suitable replacement forest just as we sought a stand-in for our favorite Mexican restaurant. LaCarretta on McLoughlin was about a 90% match for Mexican food and has become our go-to spot for predictable, cheesy take-out.

Tryon Creek State Park in southwest Portland became our park.

It isn’t the same.

This sense is stronger for Heather, most likely because she grew up a short few miles from Point Defiance. It was always there and always her forest. Yet in getting to know Tryon, familiarity has bred not contempt as the saying goes, but fondness, maybe love.

Running ebbs and flows in both our lives.

We have trained for a marathon and a few halves. We do the work, build up over several months, and run the race. Every time I swear it will be different, but I usually go cold turkey off the running. Something else more interesting comes to the fore. Something without so much running.

Last summer the mood struck me and I jumped back onto the trails and treated myself to a whole host of new experiences running in Tryon. I was running in stolen moments between daycare drop offs and the office or on a quick afternoon jaunt on my way back to daycare. Mostly snatches of 25 minutes here or 40 minutes there.

I saw the seasons change. I moved smoothly through shirtless days dripping sweat in warm summer months into one of my most appreciated autumns ever.

I love fall leaves.

I cherish the short weeks where the light show in the trees builds, peaks, and dissipates all too quickly. Burnt and brilliant colors carpet the trails before the leaves are soon gathered into mud beneath my sneakers.

I ran through the fall season and added thicker layers, pants, and my signature ear warmer— dorky yet utilitarian. My old wool Army surplus gloves came out of storage and I would occasionally adjust the podcast on my iPhone with the tip of my nose instead of sliding off a frosty glove and chilling my fingers. Don’t judge.

Rains came, too, just as they would in Tacoma over Thanksgiving. I drank in the sight of wet leaves glistening and bathed in the sound ten thousand drops falling to forest floor and gentle stream.

I ran long loops and short. Mostly between two and seven miles. Whatever schedule and motivation allowed.

None of the terrain was new because Heather and I ran much of our marathon training here and exhausted every route.

Nonetheless, alone and years removed from logging so much time here, it was a new park for me to learn. Familiar turns popped up along tails wholly forgotten a step before.

By late fall I found myself veering in the same direction at the beginning of most of my runs. Left from the ranger station and the first left down the switchbacks. Across a bridge and left along rolling hills above Tryon Creek. Finally right at an intersection to avoid a path that only goes up, up, up to Terwilliger and the boring, paved bike path.

Instead I follow the more gradual upward climb usually only as far as a final, low bridge across a stream. A good spot to stretch my quads—knee to knee like my chiropractor says—and smell the air. Hear the water burble. In late fall the strongest aroma was cedar saw dust along the trail from a tree downed in a storm and chain sawed into pieces that could be rolled from the path.

There is something about crossing a bridge. I often run to just this same point, but I always cross over the bridge. I’ll caress the soft bark of the cedar standing on the far side and turn back to the water to stretch.

Often as I stretch, people will run into view coming down the hill toward my return path and I will gauge how fast they’re going and whether I should light out ahead of them so I don’t end up in that awkward position of trying to pass or following someone too close along single track. I can’t enjoy my woods time running in a line of foot traffic.

Let’s be honest, most of the people this far out of the trails are faster than me anyway. Often as not I give them a minute head start and never see them again until they pass me going back the other way having looped around on some other trail, probably their own signature route.

Having a nearby place, my place, is happiness. Even if it is simultaneously many other peoples’ place, I have my own experience here. I know how the dried leaves or wet ferns smell to me. I know what the moss looks like as it clings to trees who stretch skyward and crisscross the blue sky.

I know each day will bring some of the same and something new.

Stick the Landing

stick the landingWe love watching people do things well.

High level performance of just about any kind is captivating.  Doesn’t matter if you know much about what you’re seeing or not.

I watched Olympic curling in person.  Really, curling.  I have no idea what they’re doing, but it was amazing!  All that sweeping and sliding. I loved the Swiss contingency sitting in front of us singing what I can only assume were powerfully patriotic national songs as they rose up and down from their seats in unison.  Now here is a people who know what real curling is!

I don’t surf, ski jump, or race horses, but I can tell when each looks good.  We recognize smoothness and precision in the world around us.

Grace triumphs.

Economy of motion transcends fields and looks familiar on a soccer pitch, tennis court, or stage.

When a skilled chef works with a knife, we see control, fluidity.  When we watch a mason maneuver mortar and smooth it with a trowel, it looks easy because of the number of hours it was anything but.

Witnessing greatness is fun.  But, we also we enjoy watching people improve at something they didn’t do so well just a little while ago.

I see this every day as a swim coach.  Small adjustments for our swimmers that, if they keep their heads in the right place, allow them to work through that awkward phase of change and come out the other side improved, sharper.

My son learned to walk less than a year ago.  You can bet I’ve seen a lot of growth between that day last March and a few months ago when he climbed the first two steps from our living room with ease, climbed back down a step to point to the one he would jump over, climbed up again, and jumped down to the floor.  Like a tiny Babe Ruth calling his shot.

He doesn’t always stick the landing, but he still jumps.

We don’t always do things well, but we can do them better.  And better again.  And still better until we begin to do them well.

You won’t always stick the landing, but you can still decide to jump.

Up for Grabs

Jakey has been a grabber since day one.

As he rounds out his second year, the grabbing has intensified and his wingspan is much longer. The boy has orangutan arms and tentacles for fingers. All that he can reach he touches.

Which brings us to our short detour on the way home from daycare last week.

I’m trying to cut back on these detours… I have cut back.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still swing by 7-Eleven to pick up an ice cold Slurpee from time to time. I know this level of refreshment is an indulgence.

That day, I nabbed the boy early from daycare and took a swing by The Sev on our way home to play.

There are a limited number of ways I can carry a 32 ½ pound toddler and a Slurpee at the same time. The most comfortable ways involve the use of both my arms to support him and inadvertently place the drink at about Jakey’s waist level.

His reaction is predictable and unrelenting. Like a dog or grizzly bear snapping into action when their chase response is activated, his eyes lock on the fluorescent orange straw and his hand is closing around it and pulling before I can even ask him not to. I try my best to maintain my hold on both boy and drink while prizing his hand free of the straw.

Two, three, four times in quick succession he darts his arm out and grabs the straw before I can circle the collective parenting wagons and respond in some way other than, “Don’t… hey… stop… Buddy…”

Each time I see his dirty mitt shoot out like a striking cobra and encircle my straw I have a flash of the dusty boy I just picked up from amongst his snotty, dirty, coughing (darling) friends in the play yard at daycare and wonder how many other little kid cooties are now on my straw. I have come to terms with sharing all my little man’s germs, but if I could avoid a few from the other wee ones, well…

Fast forward several days and I landed on much better solution than any particular way of holding Jakey and a beverage at the same time. He landed on it, really. I just listened to him for once.

Give him his own straw.

I got orange (go team!) and Jakey got green. By the time we made it to the car and my Slurpee was safely out of his reach on the roof, he was requesting that I help him get the straw out of its wrapper. Mission accomplished.

Slurpee straws are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things Jakey grabs without a second thought.

Kitten’s tail.

Mom’s necklaces and earrings.

Lips.

Noses.

The soft, sensitive skin across the front of my throat that protects my jugular and other important parts of my neck.

Kitten’s hind leg.

Knives from the counter (how is he that tall?!?).

Nipples (careful, if they’re exposed, he might grab them).

Glassware.

Tablecloths.

Night lights.

Lightbulbs.

Sharpies.

Kitten’s fur.

We’re barely scratching the surface here, folks. If it’s remotely graspable, you know what’s gonna happen. I get to the point with this kid where I can sense it coming. It’s a high-speed risk assessment you perform at a near subconscious level when you walk into a new environment.

Hazards, attractive nuisances, a whole checklist of likelies—all possible ways he can hurt himself or rack up a large damage bill.

Problem is, there’s a difference between seeing something coming and preventing it. He’s quick.

And another difference still between being able to prevent something and having the wisdom to know whether or not you should.

He needs to explore. It’s imperative he discovers, feels, and learns about his world. There will be bumps and scrapes. Broken trucks, plates, glasses, laundry baskets, house plants, and boxed brownies.

It’s imperative he has this in his life.

And yes, it’s imperative he grabs stuff.

How You’ll Know

In reference to yesterday’s post…

It doesn’t have to be a negative to have a high opinion of oneself, within reason.  A lot of the best people I know fit this bill.  You can usually tell them from the other kind—those who are conceited, vain, arrogant—by the way they make you feel.

Is their personality both magnetic and uplifting?  Not just fun to be around, but adding to your life.  Are you charged up and ready to be better and live better?  Did your energy go up or down when you were near them?

A list of phrases someone with a high opinion of herself might utter:

I will handle whatever comes.

I know who to ask for help.

I’m open to change.

Follow me.

Can I join you?

I believe in you.

I believe in something.

Sometimes I won’t have all the answers.

Finding an answer isn’t always the goal.

People can trust me.

I trust the people who care about me.

Adversity is an opportunity.

I’ve faced challenges before.

I thrive under pressure.

I got this.

                          We got this.

A High Opinion of Yourself

Sometimes we say things like, “He has a high opinion of himself.”

It’s not usually a compliment.

And when I’ve used that phrase in the past I haven’t meant it as a compliment either.  But, what’s wrong with having a high opinion of yourself?

I certainly want my swimmers to have high opinions of themselves.

It’s just that I also want them to have a high opinion of the people around them.  I want them to regard others—especially teammates—with dignity and optimism and an ample benefit of the doubt.

Thinking a lot of ourselves is not the problem.  Placing ourselves above others is.

We’re not talking conceit or vanity.  How about simply thinking you have what it takes.

Waking up each morning knowing it.  That ought to give you a little boost getting out the door and making things happen. Making YOUR LIFE happen.

Active not passive.

Have a high opinion of yourself and what you bring to the table. Then act accordingly.  Wow people.

Safety Bar Down Please

The second glove fell a split second after the first and I saw both of them drift downward through the wind to rest in brown, brushy grass that poked up out of the snow. There should have been no grass visible in that spot, but for the saddest Cascades snowfall in years.

All four little girls on the chairlift ahead of me squirmed and swiveled their heads side to side trying to see where the gloves had gone.

Far away.

To the ends of the Earth as far as any of them were concerned. None of these young ladies would be shinnying down the rocky cliff terrain along the front side face to retrieve this pair of gloves.

“Bummer,” I said.

I was riding with three people I didn’t know because my cousin and I had started taking the Singles line on busy chairlifts. Apparently, the guy next to me saw the gloves fall, too. He cocked his head and said, “Huh.”

“That’s a trip to the Pro Shop,” I said.

“At least she has pockets.”

(Okay, I said the pockets thing, too. I was a bloody comedian this afternoon.)

This little girl’s misfortune speaks to just what worries me any time I take my gloves off on the chair lift.

So I stick close to routine when bare hands are indicated.

Both gloves remain clamped firm in my left armpit. I’ve perfected this hold by carrying water bottles and clipboards around the pool deck in just this way for years. I hardly ever drop either—only a couple times per season. My big, orange water bottle is nearly devoid of paint and looks mostly like a big, silver water bottle now. The missing paint and dented exterior are what prompt people to say, “Looks like it’s about time for a new bottle!”

People have heaped this advice on me for years so it is certainly not time for a new bottle yet.

If I take my gloves off on a chairlift, it’s because a task requires my more dexterous ungloved fingers. I employ a heightened level of caution when I slip my phone from a jacket pocket and a lower alert level for Chapstick or Kleenex.

So far I bat a thousand for not losing gear off the chairlift. With the exception of skis, of which I’ve dropped just one. And there were extenuating circumstances involving a lift boarding miscue at the bottom of the lift and clumsiness on my part. And embarrassment, plenty of embarrassment.

Plus, that was ages ago. A couple years at least…

That day, the lift attendant snagged my ski out of the snow a few feet away and handed it to the next guy in line to shepherd up to the top for me. The lift operator had done this before, I could tell by his deft response.

Seeing people lose a glove or ski pole from the lift always brings home the reality of our precarious station dangling high above snow and trees on a contraption such as a chairlift. Perfectly safe, except when chairs fall off in high wind.

Perfectly safe, except when they shut down the lift for the holiday weekend and you and two friends are stuck to fend off freezing temps, broken bones, and a pack of famished wolves.

Oh wait, that was the plot of one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. (Thanks to cousin Chase for begging us to watch it with him. I can’t get that 93 minutes of my life back ever.)

In a spectacular coincidence, this movie was also called “Frozen.” From the rave reviews I’ve heard about the animated Disney musical, I may have seen the wrong movie by that name. And to the 45,877 IMDB users who have, as of today, joined together to give the 2010 “Frozen”—the one with compound leg fracturing and gory wolf predation—6.2 stars, all I can say is, “…Huh?”

While we’re on the subject of bad decisions, let’s talk lift safety. As many of you know, I’m kind of a safety guy.

That bar you can pull down over your lap on a chairlift might keep you on the chair should some strong wind jostle or tilt the chair. Plus, that footrest freakin’ rocks in place of dangling my legs the whole trip. My skis should have to carry me, but not the other way around.

Refraining from the bar seems to lay mostly with experienced skiers and most of the snowboard crowd. I’ve been up with my sister- and brother-in-law who snowboard several times, so I appreciate it’s more awkward for boarders to make use of the bar anyway.

Whatevs.

I’m not falling off the lift in a rogue wind or surprise yeti attack if I can help it.

Still, I don’t love being “that guy” who always puts the bar down when I can tell no one else is reaching for it. That’s part of why it was great skiing with my cousin Josh today. He put the bar down every time! Without fail. As soon as our feet had left the snow.

By the third or fourth ride I was remembering to duck my head away from the clunk on my helmet when it passed over. It was great! None of the awkwardness of saying, “Do you mind if we put the bar down?” Followed by the resentful sidelong glance from a stranger.

All things considered, I am a little surprised chairlifts are as safe as they are. Statistically speaking, essentially no one dies in chairlift incidents. I mean no disrespect to people who do lose their lives or loved ones in such accidents. It’s just so, so much safer than bikes, cars, buses, or just plain old walking.

Considering the low-friction environment of snow pants against vinyl, you’d think more people would just scooch off the edge while trying to get comfortable or fishing around to extract something from a pants pocket. I guess I’ve always felt the same way about driving along roads with opposing traffic blowing past just feet away across that thin, yellow line. Sure, there are head-on collisions, but just not that many for the number of times we pass someone in a day or a lifetime behind the wheel.

I have to chalk it up to innate self-preservation more than the human ability to actively focus on not killing ourselves. Wouldn’t you?

I will keep using the safety bar. I will keep a firm hold on my gloves under my armpit whenever I need to multitask while suspended dozens of feet above crippling terrain. Business as usual.

YIMBY–Yes In My Back Yard

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Yes In My Back Yard

More or less. Just down the road, actually.

Minutes from our home. Cool stream, verdant mossy rocks, decaying logs.

Did I mention the spectacular new playground just yards away that my son loves? He climbed his first cargo net today and slid down the big-kid slide.

Then threw stones in a shallow pool and took a hike up a muddy path and across a foot bridge where he peered between the slatted rails to see the miniature whitewater below.

On second thought, it’s not so great here.

If you don’t already live in Portland, don’t make plans to move. It’s not as great as I make it sound. No need to crowd the place.

I’m talking gibberish.

I can hold your art

Trees and kids go together.

I climbed them to heights that now dizzy my head and would survey all the lands around my childhood home. I may as well have been a seafarer high on a mast sighting distant land for the excitement and freedom these perches radiated through my heart.

Smaller trees fell to the bite of my hatchet or machete when the allure of chopping overrode any young sense of preservation. I was a child in the forest, surrounded by trees too many to count, too many to miss one here and there. Children sometimes tear down.

Girls and boys both do this, I know.

But gosh, boys… We did some damage.

I grew up in the era of “Hug a Tree” education programs. I suppose it goes without saying I also grew up in a place where getting lost in the forest was a likely enough prospect to warrant an education program to improve our survivability in the face of such a fate.

Hug a Tree could be summed up as, “Stay put, don’t just wander off aimlessly if you don’t really know how to get back to civilization.”

At the time, I fixated on the very literal image of wrapping my arms partway around a huge fir tree and pressing my face into its rough bark. I remember feeling unclear on how hugging the tree was really, truly going to keep me safer than just, you know, sticking around the same general spot in the forest and listening for voices or the helicopter that would surely be dispatched to find me.

But, who am I kidding. I would definitely have wandered off trying somehow to find my way somewhere.

I prefer movement over not.

The tree I have climbed most in all the world is a cedar, tall and red, soft bark torn free around the lower trunk by our cats’ sharp claws, branches worn soft by my feet, hands, and bottom on thousands of trips skyward and back down so fast I might as well have been shimmying up a ladder or bumping down a flight of stairs.

I could see my mom in the kitchen window far below. Cooking, washing dishes, within view through that window a surprising amount. Peering up in the way I now see was cautious supervision tempered with the determination to let me climb. To let me be a young boy in the woods.

My spot was high up, about even with the top of the telephone pole. I could look down on the rounded metal roof of our home, onto the tarred black surface of the square living room addition sloping away toward the yard on the opposite side. Chimney and vents. The garage farther off, its grooved metal roof on this side facing up toward my perch, its exterior surrounded by sawhorses, parts of cars, boat hulls, mechanical detritus of all sorts that defined the space to either side of our driveway.

My overriding memory of this perch was ease. Carefree comfortable ease of mind and spirit. Ease of warm summer evenings where the hot day’s breeze wafted a greenish-Rhone cedar spice aroma mingled with wildflowers and the bright green smell of lamb sorrel so sour to eat, yet so irresistible because we knew we could eat it and risk no more than the stomach ache that comes with too much sour.

These days in my memory remain forever long, freeing, relaxed. Days marked by opportunity to do anything, go anywhere, be whoever. Wide expanses of forest that begged young intrepid explorers to probe deeper and deeper, passing the same trees, swamp, beaver dams, and logging roads in search of far-flung adventure over the next hill, the next property line.

This life seems faraway.

We now live in a city, my family. Lots of trees. In the back yard and the front. A whole “green space”-y valley across the street winding through our neighborhood. Real woods are farther flung, though still a matter of minutes not hours distant. But…

Where will my son explore?

Climb?

How high?

Cant’ even think about that now. Right now it’s the back yard and playgrounds and realizing that maybe I don’t have to climb all the way to the top of the play structure behind him with a hand out like the coaches you see on TV who step onto the gymnastics mat before the gymnast does that tricky release move.

Hardly ever necessary, but there just the same… In case.

And that must end soon. Other safety nets will remain. Other kinds of vigilance.

Life is both hard and soft. Like the trees.

Some barks are soft to touch. Leaves, too, and fuzzy new buds that shoot forth each spring. Buds and tiny white flowers that are out now, surprisingly early, on the neighbor’s plum tree that overhangs our front yard. From which we will eat in months to come. From which Jakey would gorge himself if only we would continue to pluck plum after plum for him. Insatiable.

Tonight he fingered the buds with a gentle hand and I wondered at how most of a year had passed since this tree hung low with maroon leaves and lush fruit and Jakey could barely walk, barely talk, but still said, “Plum? Plum!”
And juice ran down his smooth chin and over his tiny fingers.

For all their soft parts and the gentle waving way a bough moves, trees are also hard. They hold their ground against car bumpers with horrific ease, against rough climbing children, pocket knives, bugs, and woodpeckers. They withstand the test of time and nature better than most living things.

Jakey likes trees. He likes being outdoors.

The tree pictured at the top of this post is outside the preschool by the playground where we played this afternoon. It is not just ornamental. The tree is part of the school. Far more alive, filled with infinitely more magic than the asphalt covered in two-dimensional sidewalk chalk drawings like any old playground. No, this tree is an inviting canvas like no concrete or blacktop.

It says notice me.

Not all ears hear its invitation, but the important ones do. The ears we most want open to the call of the Earth.

The tree says I can hold your art. Give it to me and I will show it proudly long after these sprinkles of rain already falling wash away the last hints of chalk below on the unprotected pavement.

We go together.

I can hold your art.

Heroes of the Day

Today’s heroes in chronological order:

First, Rachel. One of my swimmers. You went out of your way to play with Jakey at the pool and are always so excited to see him. You make faces at him and receive high fives. You also used an old remote control that he found in a drawer to talk to him like a telephone. This brought him much joy.

When I found out Heather and I were having a baby more than two years ago, I was excited for him to meet my college swimmers. I knew that, whenever he was at the pool, he’d be surrounded by kind, exuberant, wicked-intelligent young adults. This is just what has come to pass and you are one of those people.

Thank you.

[Forgive me if this next tribute reads like those Budweiser “Real American Heroes” commercials. As an aside, I love those commercials!]

Second hero, the man driving a big beige truck in the loading bay beside Fred Meyer this afternoon. You wore a fluorescent green safety vest over coveralls and took up nigh on fifty percent of your truck cab’s volume.

You were winching some sort of metal dumpster onto the back of your truck and we watched it slowly ratcheting higher, higher, until you flipped a switch and it lowered into place with a gigantic clang.

Jakey said, “Loud.”

I agreed.

You were working on Sunday afternoon. You may or may not like your job. Maybe you have kids at home or maybe you don’t. All I can tell you is that today the work you did made my son very happy while we loaded the groceries into our car and then stood to watch you winch that container the rest of the way into place.

For a day, for a moment, anyone can be a hero to a little boy. Just by being themselves.

Something Missing

It’s like returning to your childhood home to find a shopping mall where you expected the little league field.

Ski slopes should have snow on them in February, at least in the northern hemisphere. At least on Earth.

I learned to ski at Meadows when I was 12. Sometimes you ski powder and sometimes you ski ice. It’s Oregon, after all. But, every time I have been up I knew I could count on one thing… Snow.

At the risk of providing an even worse analogy, whenever I looked around me today and saw green grassy hillsides and dirt, it was like going to the zoo and finding the zebras striped teal and gold. You don’t get used to it in a single afternoon.

Hefty swaths of alpine grass and bramble lined hillsides I had skied over a hundred times. Stumps three feet in diameter rose eight or more inches from the earth along classic ski runs beside streams I never knew existed. Waterfalls leapt from these streams and wholly altered a landscape usually defined for me by the shadow and glare of blanketing snow.

Moguls today were mud and rock. Some runs dumped you out into a field of such obstacles and they became nature’s slalom course. Make your way between this muddy hummock and the clods of dirty grass nearby. Take two quick turns to set up the tight corner around a rock while avoiding the limb protruding from the snow.

Ski resort business is probably the least of our big picture worries when so little snow has fallen on the Cascades this late into winter. That said, I don’t know how you stay afloat financially. Sure, you can operate only three lifts—like today. And sure, you can tell the employees who operate those other nine lifts and some of your restaurants to stay home—like today. At some point, the bottom line must bottom out. Hopefully they have a buffer.

Because Mt. Hood just can’t keep snow on her slopes this year.

Allow me to illustrate:

Earlier this week snow level at the base was 31 inches. Then they got 4 inches of new snow. Today the base was 27 inches. Try that on for size.

It takes some rainy days to square that math.

Not the worst weather on Hood and far from the worst snow. But…

When I was soggy, when I had reached my limit of tiny sleet crystals gnashing at exposed bits of my face, I retreated to the lodge, dodging tufts of grass, bits of bark, and a wide, slushy puddle stretching over a house-sized zone out front in the snow.

Just before I entered the glassed-in stairwell to the lower level and sanctuary in my locker full of dry clothes, I passed two young men standing with snowboards. They stared past me up toward the most barren slope, one usually home to slalom runs and teeming with racers-in-training.

Dude One said, “I think we could make it down Stadium.”

I followed their gaze to the slope (pictured below). One could potentially do this. You can see the path you might take…

Dude Two waited several beats to respond.

“You first.”

Good rejoinder.

Dude One shook his head and said, “I’m ready to hit that hot tub.” They headed back toward the lodge.

The other funny thing I heard today was a woman talking to a man as they descended a flight of stairs behind me. She said, “I just hope my face doesn’t stay like this.”

I assume she referred to windburn, the kind reddening my own nose and small strips of my face below sideburns and above where my Turtle Fur reached.

Sadness swept over me when I realized I had turned around too late and they were rounding the corner for the next flight of stairs. I would never know her affliction.

As it is, everything else I imagined she might mean was funnier than windburn.

To me.

Which is what counts.

Winter weather has been anything but wintery this year.

The next big winter storm could be just around the corner. The base depth could crack 30 inches again, maybe 40. Then and only then will the dirt, the rocks, and the grass, disappear beneath a protective, blinding layer of white. Places like the mid-mountain Mazot grille and bar won’t need those five or six wooden steps up to the door where oftentimes there are steps cut into the snow down to that same door.

Scarcity is a game-changer. Oregonians are used to living in a land of plenty when it comes to natural resources. Snow on the ski runs is no such luxury this season. We consider ourselves hardy folk so it’s no surprise that people still make the trek to Meadows.

No surprise, either, that getting in some runs is still magic. There will always be the exhilaration of falling fast down a slope while you breathe in letting the wind push its cold air deep into your lungs.

Something may be missing (snow pack) but it’s not everything.

The Quietest Mischief

Ten minutes from home on the freeway. That’s when Jakey fell asleep. On our way back from the train show this afternoon.

When I got him into his bedroom, I tried for a stealthy diaper change and crib transplant.

No dice.

At first, he was happy to see the inside of his crib—stuffed G-raffe and Bunny there to greet him. But, that warm note soured fast when he realized I was easing the door shut behind me as I slipped out.

I gave him a couple minutes to plead and yell while I changed clothes and went downstairs to turn on the video baby monitor. He was silent by the time I got sweats on and crept back past his door. Another sleepy fit short lived.

Or so I thought.

Downstairs, I peered into the baby monitor’s small night vision image. Slatted crib bars as usual, heaped blankets and a stuffed animal.

No sign of a sleeping baby.

Sun streamed in our living room window so the screen was hard to see. I squinted and held the monitor close.

Movement in the center of the crib. Nondescript and fluffy. Could he be under a pile of blankets?

Then I saw his tiny heels at the far end of the crib, just at the edge of the frame, raised above flexed feet.

The fluffy spot at the center of the crib hit home. The lack of visual focus on the screen was supplanted by absolute clarity in my mind.

1.25.15 Jakey and Kleenex pile cropI made it up the stairs and to his door in about four seconds. When I came in, Jakey looked back at me over his shoulder and kept working. The Costco-size box of Kleenex on the nightstand was nearly empty by the look of the heap of tissues reaching nearly halfway to the crib rails. He just kept pulling and dropping, my diligent, determined boy engaged in doing something interesting. Always doing, doing.

He’s not even two and the list of his actions I am half annoyed at and half joyous over grows daily.

I removed the Kleenex pile and the box to the glider chair. I asked him not to do that anymore. He said, “Downstairs, thank you Daddy,” and we came downstairs together. Nap was over before it started.

1.25.15 Kleenex pileI find it amazing a small being like him can so cleanly and regularly summon the best and worst of my emotions in the same instant. Heather and I try—we really do—not to laugh at his most inappropriate behavior, even when it’s hilarious.

We mostly succeed.

Friday morning Jakey and I spent some time kickin’ it in the play room. We had been reading together before he stood up and walked around the corner to the living room. I was sorting through a stack of children’s books when my brain pieced together the clicks and clunks I was hearing from just out of my sight line.

As with the Kleenex incident today, realization doesn’t soak in gradually, it smacks me upside the head with a 2×4. It’s like the Big Bang. Nothing one instant and then, well, everything.

My record player.

Except, in my mind, the voice sounds more like RECORD PLAYER!!

I rocketed off the futon and turned the corner to see my boy kneeling in front of the record player, its lid lifted, watching the platter turn with a small Lego car—one I had made for him—scooting along at the back, half on, half off. The blue and red car repeatedly catches on a hinge momentarily and then jolts forward like a tourist driving on the roundabout beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Erratic and unpredictable.

This delighted him.

Anger washed over me and was just as quickly swept under by a close-following wave of admiration. The sight delighted me, too. The Lego car sort of rolling along on its own, Jakey kneeling there, still as a bug, with so much activity right in front of him.

I can’t help adoring the fact that his mischief disguises itself as tiny physics experiments. My toddler is ever the miniature scientist and some of his best mischief is often nearly silent.

The beauty of a moving start

Better to cross the starting line already moving than to begin from a standstill.

Last year at this time I wrote about New Years Resolutions. Some people believe that January is not the best time for resolving to make big changes. See holiday challenges, travel, iffy weather, all that.

I get it.

But, you know what else I get? That any kick in the pants toward forward-thinking and betterment is probably worthwhile.

And so I propose we look at the beginning of a new year with a twist. Instead of thinking of January as the starting point, we’re better off looking at it as a waypoint along our already productive path. Imagine New Years Day like the black-and-white checkered line on a NASCAR track that denotes the beginning of each new lap. Quite like in auto racing, I like to think I’m already moving at a pretty good clip as I cross that line January 1 line.

I view moving toward your goals as more serial than linear. Life is not one steady slog, but a series of moving forward, evaluating, rethinking, adjusting, and moving forward. It is many different acts, not one solitary thing repeated over and over.

You can form a new habit any time of year.

Luckily, I did a lot of work last summer and fall to build routines that I could sustain—and more importantly that would sustain me—during my busiest months of September through February. Those routines could most easily boil down to diet and exercise.

As a collegiate coach, you notice trends. Patterns that individual student-athletes set for themselves and then repeat. Furthermore, you start to see patterns of positive or negative outcomes across classes and generations of swimmers on a team. Some good, others not. It can sometimes feel a little like sitting on the porch and seeing an accident coming long before the drivers behind their steering wheels have any clue something is about to go down.

This is what’s tricky about coaching. You can provide insight. You can try to impart what becomes a vast storehouse of historical perspective. But, there is an element of living through and learning from one’s decisions that you can’t replace with your own experience. Plus, most of us carry a streak of figuring we know what we’re doing and that streak is most prevalent in our youth and young adulthood.

There I go throwing young people under the bus.

Really, we all have our own stuff, it’s just that age gives you the chance to follow certain paths more times and—possibly… hopefully—work some things out.

Here are some of my own past trends I have noticed:

More exercise in the spring and summer (off-season and better weather). Less exercise, more stress, and more holiday eating during the winter months. No recipe for consistent health this.

Nothing shocking here.

This school year I set a few goals for myself, some more concrete than others. The first was my mission to log some type of exercise at least five days per week. Second was the effort to track my soda (and Slurpee) intake with the intention of substantially limiting said intake.

“That which gets measured, gets managed,” as the adage goes. For each of these goals I used apps on my phone to record every single day.

Why did I pick these areas? This little equation may help:

(Sugar Water + Stress) – Sleep – Exercise = Bad Outcomes

My wife is the actuary in the relationship, but this is easy math if you ask me.

Now that 2015 is afoot, I am stoked to realize I improved on my baseline goals for both exercise and the sugar water situation.

Three months ago I locked in what I considered my “maximum acceptable weight gain” for the rest of 2014. Holiday season is tough for a lot of people. In my case, it’s not so much stress eating but the prevalence of great food and a long string of holiday gatherings, galas, and events.

I am realistic. I figured a little slippage was inevitable if I was going to enjoy the holidays.

Never forsaking my exercise routine is tough during the busy season. It can also seem harder to exercise when cold winter wraps her fingers around the Pacific Northwest and I have to wear wool gloves and my bright orange ear warmer to run in Tryon Creek State Park. I persevered. I also kept attending our masters swimming workouts.

Time gets tight and I had to adjust somewhere.

It was the weights. After swim season started, I scaled my strength routine back to a minimalist set of tough exercises that I found success with several years earlier. I knew they would save me time and I’d be more likely to get them in. Heavy loads for legs and back, plus some additional exercises for the posterior chain to manage spinal health and posture during a time of much sitting, car rides, and standing on concrete pool decks.

And I kept showing up.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Enter Newton’s First Law of Motion: Every object in a state of motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

In this case, my health and fitness regimen is the object. Work, life, and the extended Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years dreadnaught of gluttony is the external force that threatens even the best intentions.

Thus it is critical to cross the starting line already moving.

In swimming relays, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th swimmers can use what’s called a “rolling start.” You can be moving before your teammate touches the wall. You just have to keep a little bit of toe still touching the starting block until the person before you finishes and you’ve got yourself a legal exchange.

So it is with a happy heart I enter 2015 already rolling. I find I’m more motivated to KEEP my momentum than I may have been in years past to generate some forward progress after stalling into the drab chill of holiday season.

I consider the past few months a success. These are my takeaways to build on good habits.

  1. Timing—Set a habit when it’s easiest to maintain, not when things are getting rough and you need those good habits to keep you afloat.

It’s about getting that moving start before you are scrambling to hold things together in the face of major stress at work or school.

I locked in my exercise routine over the summer. Long, sunny days and a more flexible schedule made this an ideal time. I held myself accountable when it was easiest to do so. I cut back on simple sugars before the holiday season when they are most available. This set the pattern of moderation and provided a cushion when the holidays arrived and I wanted to enjoy some of its sugary offerings. This way, it was a planned-for decision and not slippage.

Less guilt = more enjoyment.

  1. Positioning—Make yourself likely to succeed. Put another way: Find things you can already do easily and create situations to augment them.

For my exercise routine, I built on what was available. One of the most beautiful forests in the world is on my way to the office. Some mornings I would change into running attire, drop the boy at daycare, and put in a few trail miles on the way to the office. Since I was already warmed up and sweaty—sometimes muddy—it was not too much more work to change into clean shoes and put in 20-30 minutes in the weight room right after. Two workouts and one shower. Voila.

We have a masters swimming team at our pool. I like the people there and I genuinely miss training with them if I can’t go. Accountability again. And convenience. No big commute across town. Easy peasy.

Pool + Weight Room + Forest. All within walking distance of my home and office. The availability will be different for everyone, but my busy season is not the time for me to re-up my rock gym membership or take us a sport I’ll have to go farther out of my way to pursue.

  1. Drive—You have to want it… (and then do it!).

Did we really ever “want” something that we don’t put a genuine effort into accomplishing. The question remains. I am in the camp that believes maybe we only want to believe in the idea of certain successes or improvements when we are unwilling to take the first—or second, or third—step in reaching them.

Want to be more fit? Want to travel the world? Want to love your job, be more respected, get out on the town more? Make art? Keep in touch with old friends?

The question is whether we like the act of following through on these wishes as much as the idea of them while there is no change underway.

A person gets busy, you know…?

Maybe true, but not helpful.

This is where you need to see steps 1 and 2. TIME your jumping-off point and POSITION yourself so it’s easy to succeed. This guarantees you’ll need a smaller Minimum Effective Dose (M.E.D.) of DRIVE to get the ball rolling than if you try to make a change when you’re in the thick of it, barely hanging on.

Does this seem like the path of least resistance?

Good, because that’s just what you want when you are trying to get moving so that you can have that rolling start next time you approach a starting line.

Zimbabwe

What you’ll hear first is Jakey.

Followed by his mom.  Then the little man again.

Hands down—no question—one of my Top-5 favorite things Jakey says.  It’s up there with “weed whacker,” “leaf blower,” and “Daddy!”

Zimbabwe stands for the last letter in the “Alphabet of Nations” song by They Might Be Giants.  It’s one of the two he likes on the entire album.

Sometimes I’ll just ask him to say “Zimbabwe” out of the blue.

He always obliges.  He’s that kind of kid.

12/13/14 and other magical numbers

12.13.14Facebook probably already told you this, but yesterday was 12/13/14.

Plenty of people had birthdays or anniversaries, but the significance for most of us lay largely in the quaint, clean progression of numerals.

We are pattern-recognizing animals, after all.

Numbers on clocks and calendars are artificial constructs people created to give order to their days and years. These are utilitarian practices. Calendars told farmers when to plant and hunters when to hunt. These most basic life-giving acts depended on the right timing and calendars provided predictability.

Completely utilitarian.

Except that we humans delight in tracking and acknowledging anniversaries, birthdays, and the occasional coincidental sequence of numbers.

Which makes 12/13/14 pretty cool.

Boat loads of weddings yesterday, I’d guess. More than your typical Saturday two weeks before Christmas, for sure.

When Facebook reminded me that it was 12/13/14, it got me thinking. Have people always cared about cute strings of numbers like today’s date or the time 11:11?

Is blogging about clever dates a luxury we’re afforded because of our comparatively privileged existence compared to the whole of human history? Could be.

In my hour of digging, I did not uncover ancient cultures blogging about quirky dates. But, I did learn that as far back as half a million years ago humans made bowls from the skulls of those vanquished in battle and used them to track the passage of time. Gnarly, right?

Good dates and bad dates abound throughout history. I think my modern upbringing in this Pacific Northwest corner of the western world keeps me completely out of touch with such concerns.

So, my findings are purely yet exquisitely fascinating.

In Scottish culture, May is an unlucky month and, as wedding dates go, May 3rd is as unlucky as you can get. June, better.

In Moroccan culture, you can get married any time you want. Oh, except from February 24th to March 4th, which is hesoum. Marriage strictly prohibited this week. But, hey, you’ve got 51 others so stop complaining.

An Egyptian papyrus dating from over 3000 years ago delineates good and bad days for doing all manner of things. The bad days were shown with red hieroglyphs.

We’re not so superstitious as past societies and cultures. Not by a long shot. If you think of the most superstitious person you’ve ever met, he or she might reach middle-of-the-road by ancient standards. For most of us, newspaper horoscopes are amusing at best, like reading the write-in letters in Cosmo (female friends of mine in college, not me. I swear.).

Thankfully, science and technology have advanced far enough to fill in many of the blank spaces where mystery and superstition once served as placeholders.

I’m glad for this. There are plenty of mysteries still to solve without worrying about the date or day of the week that might prove unlucky. Friday the 13th, you have no power over me. I have bigger things to focus on.

12/13/14, it’s been fun! Now it’s time to busy ourselves with real life as we await the arrival of 1/5/15.

Picking your high point

11.28.14 LeafEvery day has a high point.

What was yours?

It’s no surprise this close cousin of gratitude should follow on the heels of the Thanks-giving holiday. It’s also no mystery that we get more of what we focus on. Who doesn’t want more high points?

Maybe it was a kind word, a sight, or simply a coincidental moment of bliss in an otherwise routine day. An unexpected call, a rainbow, or the person who stopped to help you pick up the stack of papers you dropped.

Even on a bad day, you should be able to pick the high point. Some good happened or some small piece of whatever bad that went down either has a silver lining or will lead to good in the future.

Don’t be cynical and pull one of those “it could have been worse” routines. “At least I didn’t break my leg.” That’s a cop-out. Your life needs that attitude like it need more backhanded compliments.

If you can pick a high point every day, soon you’ll find yourself choosing between several moments that stood out.

Soon you might notice you naturally focus on the positive, move toward the positive, expect the positive.

Look for the high points to produce more of them.

Thanksgiving Means Remembering

IMG_7582 cropThanksgiving means more once you’ve left home for good.

Maybe that’s going away to college. Maybe it’s just moving out on your own for the first time.

Thanksgiving starts to mean a return to family, tradition, and history, rather than just another holiday on the calendar.

And sometimes it means giving thanks. Is this cliché? Sure. I am all for small steps taken to appreciate the spirit of a holiday. Just because it is good practice to take stock year-round of what one has to be grateful for, does not mean that we all do this so well.

I am a fan of reminders. They are all around us if we open our eyes. Sometimes they are leaves, other times people or holidays.

I have to admit, reminders can feel like nagging—dishes, laundry, pay the bills, don’t forget all the stuff we have to be thankful for… Blah, blah.

Problem is, there is a LOT to keep in one’s head and we often need reminders to get stuff done, even when that stuff is leading a happy, healthy life and realizing everything we have going for us.

As I said last January, New Years resolutions are one kind of annual reminder to take stock, start anew, or refresh the motivational stores.

Thanksgiving seems a fitting time to practice gratitude and hIMG_7545 old our lives in perspective. So, here we go.

For starters, I am thankful to share my life and home and love with these two people.

I can’t imagine a more amazing family. The fun we share and the future we are building make me excited for each day we spend together. I don’t laugh harder with anyone than I do with Heather and Jakey.

I am also thankful that I can spend time in wilderness like just minutes from my house, sometimes on my way to the office. There are few better ways to connect to the Earth and feel centered than spending some time with your feet on the uneven, loamy soil of a forest floor.

IMG_7538Every part of the scenery roots me to the greater world. The deeper, more primal world without asphalt or high tension wires. The world where trees grow and drop leaves that become soil. Where these same trees sometimes crack and collapse under the weight of wind and ice, themselves to become home to small animals and finally, years from now, soil themselves.

We’re lucky we are surrounded by people trying to make the world better in big ways and little. And let’s be honest, it’s usually the little ways that add up to tidal forces of change in the world. In tiny, simple, daily ways we can improve most any life that we contact. Opportunity is always there, whether we seize it or not.

I am thankful I have the luxury and privilege of exercise. Fitness has remained a focal point in my life for going on twenty-five years, since the time I became a year-round athlete and not simply a seasonal sport player during childhood.

That exercise has looked like many things over the years. Today I swim with great people on our masters team and that is so fun. Our group rocks! I’m inspired by them and I’m inspired to get out of bed to come swim with them. That says a lot, considering the toddler situation and the work hours I keep.

IMG_7584And I signed up for a Spartan Race last August.

Phew!

It was a blast. Yes, diabolical, hot, dusty, muddy, and challenging, too.

More important, the race catalyzed my drive to keep training, run more often, take the trail with the worst hills more often, and get in the weight room three days week.

Last (but never least) I spend six or seven days a week around college students who are flying through some of the most vibrant, tumultuous, memorable years of their lives. By and large, they do this with grace and vigor.

IMG_6352Nothing keeps me both connected to the feelings of youth and also starkly aware of aging like hanging around 18-22 year-olds. I am thankful for the chance to see them soar and help in little ways along the path.

Thanksgiving is a reminder about gratefulness.

It’s also a time (thankfully!) for turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and brandy sauce. For starters.

We don’t all have to be grateful for the same things. But, we would do well to focus on gratitude as often as possible.

Adding Sasquatch

A year ago when Jakey began a new daycare, they gave us what felt like reams of paperwork to complete.

One of the questions was Things your baby is afraid of:

We laughed at this question. When Jakey was seven months old, all we could come up with was unexpected loud noises. Almost everyone jumps at unexpected loud noises, but we included it in the name of thoroughness because getting into this daycare was pretty key for us.

Up until a few weeks ago, Jakey didn’t mind being in our walk-in closet in the dark or the garage before we pushed the garage door button.

Then one day dark was scary.

He would race to the threshold of our closet in the middle of a game of chase and pull up short, suddenly wary. During hide and seek this week he refused to go into the downstairs bathroom where Heather was hiding because the light was off.

“No, no, no.”

He backed away and shook his head.

I flipped the light on and he raced back giddy and discovered his mother behind the door. All was right again.

Until tonight when grandma showed him a photo on her iPhone.

Harmless enough. Except it was a photo of a cousin posing next to a 12-foot tall Sasquatch figure at the Peculiarium in Portland. A gigantic upright frame with long brown hair, kind of matted and generally unappealing. Overlong arms with gnarled hands. Ape-ish face like a… Sasquatch.

At first, Jakey was equal parts terrified and drawn to the photo.

He would shake his head and say, “No.” Grandma would put the phone away and then he’d come closer and say, “Sasquatch…?”

Soon his fear heightened and he wanted nothing to do with the photo any longer.

He would hold his arms open to Heather and say, “Sasquatch… hold you.”

Which, for those of us fluent in Jake-ese, means, “I’m afraid of Sasquatch, pick me up, please, pick me up, pick me up.”

We tried and tried to convince him Sasquatch was nothing to worry about. Just make believe, just a big stuffed animal.

To no avail.

So the next time daycare paperwork gets updated I guess we will be adding more than just afraid of the dark. It’s good to keep them up to speed. I would hate for a Sasquatch-related incident to crop up and them not have any warning.

The S-word is now banned in our home, until this whole bigfoot scare blows over.

Although the Sasquatch T-shirts say, “I believe,” it really doesn’t matter if I do or not.

As long as Jakey believes, we will remain a household alert to the possibility that a 12-foot hairy missing link could show up at any moment.

And we’ll be ready.

Calling it…

Sometimes you have to pull the plug. Tonight has been a good night writing away on some fiction after Jake-meister went to bed.

Until tiredness set in. Then things like this happened:11.3.14 d's

It didn’t just start right away.

Yawns came on first, followed by slow thinking like sailing across molasses. Then my eyelids fluttered shut and I reasoned that it was much more relaxing to type with them closed and just open them periodically to make sure my words were words and my punctuation was punctuating.

That’s when I jolted awake to see the cursor spilling buckets of d’s across my screen before my eyes.

Time to pull the plug for the night and resume when the d’s have lessened.

ddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

Aw, jeez.

Have a good night.

I’m out!

Reminders

Oregon AshThe leaves remind me.

Seven years I have walked or driven along Terwilliger Boulevard almost every day. Thin Oregon Ash line the southern sidewalk for a stretch of several blocks, from the Subway shop on down to my turn at Alice. Most of each year they stand thick with green leaves rustled by spring and summer breeze, slick with rain, or bare and stark through gray winter.

Yet, when I close my eyes and picture these trees I see the briefest palette between life and death, the process botanists call abscission. The shedding of leaves. Every color of a campfire blazes over the trees as they push off their leaves to save energy through coming winter.

These few weeks express the machination of shorter days, cool nights, chlorophylls, sugars, and photosynthesis. I could know all of the biology at work or none of it. This time would remain my favorite.

As I see more autumns I have the sense my life passes faster and faster. I come to appreciate the sights of transition more than I used to.

I realize that sounds as though it comes naturally. Fact is, I have to remind myself to enjoy the leaves, to stare a little longer. So often we forget. So many times we continue forward through life eyes cast downward while passing beauty, need, opportunity, or connection.

Trees this time of year stand along the boulevard like a mural in progress, each morning the colors painted over slightly different than the day before like the artist has layered on more color in translucent oils. Each afternoon sun shines through brighter red and softer orange. Yellows drape the trees like a pot of paint poured overtop to trickle down through leaves and drip gold onto the road, planting strip, and sidewalk below.

The yellow becomes a carpet with hints of brown curling up their edges and stems fading toward a woody hue. It makes me want to hurry through them shuffling my feet, not in silence, but with a childish shriek, a whoop, a holler. Some expression of the thrill.

Can I remember the last time I did this? Ran through leaves? Not even.

The moments are too fleeting to spur much change beyond the noticing. Yet, I drink the colors in a little more this season. I take longer glances or put the phone back in my pocket long enough to soak up a bit more. I think it’s because I have a son now. I want for him to spend time outdoors, to think of himself as of the outdoors. Comfortable here, dirty, playful, natural. I want him to run through piles of leaves and I suppose I want to be the kind of dad who does this with his son.

The colors pass quickly, abscission but a fleeting moment in the year. The leaves remind me.

Appreciate them now. We may get a next year and another and another. Until we don’t.

Do not skirt the beauty, but instead run through it.

Water spotted falling from sky…

In the forest it sounds like it’s raining long after a heavy storm has passed.

Millions of droplets make their way leaf to leaf toward earth through a thick canopy.

No more rain falls from still pregnant clouds overhead and the puddles in the open are glass. Yet just yards away I hear a rain shower and have to stop and look. This is a rain storm on delay, nature’s protracted game of Mousetrap as water works its way to ground running over glistening leaves, dropping, following the veins and stems always downward.

Some years, the arrival of the “rainy gray” season brought me down. This year I welcome whatever the season throws at me. I feel impervious to the doldrums.

It boils down to perspective. As I said yesterday, I think that how you handle the weather is a microcosm of how you handle your entire life. While you can change your location, you certainly can’t change the weather. Knowing this, do we spend our time lamenting that which is out of our hands, complaining about it to the people that, due to their proximity, might also be most important to us? Is that how we spend our minutes of human connection?

I am happy with my life and trajectory. My toddler is rad and my wife is rad. Our swim team is doing awesome and is peopled with some of the most positive, hard-working young adults I have ever coached.

I’m motivated. Having direction and passion is a good way to bulletproof your psyche against things like worrying about rain in the forecast.

More important, I’m not tolerating the rain better because I’m distracted, I’m loving it more for what it is.

I have gotten more back to nature this past year. I started running again last summer and do this almost exclusively in Tryon Creek State Park. It’s good for the soul. No cars or traffic. Uneven earth beneath my feet, a running surface that nature designed all of us bipeds for. Root and soil instead of the pavement.

Two months ago I ran shirtless and gasping in stifling 95 degree heat. Pollen, nettles, and cedar bark spiced dry and dusty air. This week, I have taken two of the most rewarding short runs of the year in the rain and thickening muck as leaves break down beneath my feet and the trails become spongy with yellows and browns that spray up my ankles and spatter my Nikes.

The forest is more vibrant in the rain. Leaves and trees shine with water. Bridges glisten. Patter on a million surfaces provides a soundtrack and liveliness to the solitude of running alone on less-used trails. Yesterday I passed all of about five people. Most were bundled against the weather, hooded and wearing boots. I hoped they were having as much fun as I. They were out in the park under the same trees, soaking under the same raindrops and drips.

If you are waiting until the next sunny day and hoping the rain will stop, reality will check you when Oregon showers don’t dry up for a week at a time. You’re also missing life happening right on through the stormy winter.

A swim coach I know in the Bay preaches that his athletes should “Be above the weather.”

That’s a good start. I’d like to see more people be in the weather. Instead of making the best of a bad situation, just make the best of the situation. Make the best of our one opportunity to live each day.

Several years ago I coached a young woman from Reno named Susie. She loved hot days with sun on her face. She loved the rain. She wore colorful galoshes and took walks in the rain. She lived in the moment and was at peace regardless of whether the sunshine that day was UV or liquid. I admired her even as I was hunching down under my hood and hurrying across a wet campus between meetings.

I have tried to cut back on hunching. Have you noticed how clean the world smells during a rain shower? I try to feel each drop that hits my face, try to look out and up at the trees instead of the ground in front of my feet. That’s where the world is.

I don’t mind getting wet. But, I do mind staying wet once I’m inside. Wet socks, no good at all. I will still plan my footwear in the morning based on whether I’ll have to walk across campus in the rain or how wet I may get pacing the deck during swim practice. I will still come in out of the rain, hold onto the bottom of my rain jacket—yes, these are allowed—and jump up and down to shake the water off.

Being wet is okay. So is getting dry and staying warm.

Is this a diatribe about people who complain of the weather? Of course! More importantly, I am recording my own life journey through this temperate wonderland we call the Pacific Northwest. This season I am soaking up—literally and figuratively—some facets of Autumn I have, in years past, shunned like so many others.

I live here—Portland and the Northwest—for family, career, food, arts, friends, nature, and a thousand shades of green. This boils down to quality of life. It’s high here. Are we naïve enough to think this is in spite of the rain?

Or maybe we see ourselves as a hardy folk who revel both in clear days and in cloudy. Like Susie from Reno, we can love the liquid sunshine just as we love the bright orb at the heart of our solar system when she makes her appearances overhead.

The children’s song says “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.”

As fall drips into winter, I will try to keep on thinking rain, rain… go or stay. It’s your call.

I’ll still be here making the most of my days.

When “all done” isn’t

Today was my first swimming lesson. (As a dad.)

Jakey and I journeyed across town to Matt Dishman Community Center. I didn’t expect the sensation coursing through me as I carried him across the parking lot. I was nervous.

I spend all my time around pools. I run two of them, I have swum in hundreds, and coached at many more.

But, this was my first time doing this.

Everything about a familiar place became foreign. I had to figure out how to put my swim trunks on in the locker without Jakey bolting for the door. It’s one of those pool entrances where there’s no physical door to the lobby we entered through. Just a wall jutting out far enough to block the sightline down the hallway.

I had a vision of him getting around that corner and me having to make the split second decision to chase him with nothing but a T-shirt on, holding my boxers and swimsuit, or to shout something instructive down the hallway like, “Baby loose! Grab him, he’s fast!”

I relished neither scenario.

Believe it or not, that whole scene seared across my mind in the split second it took me to lunge after him and snag his skinny wrist before he got the jump on me. He has an explosive first step, as they say in basketball.

I got me changed, him changed, and both of us out to the pool deck. The feeling of utter newness continued. I threw in the proverbial towel and asked a nice looking couple against the wall for help.

“This is our first day. Do I need to check in with someone?”

They clued me in about where instructors meet with the next lesson slot, but were less helpful about where I might leave my backpack and the diaper bag. They allowed that there were lockers in the locker room.

I nodded sagely.

I didn’t mention that I’d considered this and thought better of leaving my keys, wallet, phone, dry clothes, and towels in an unlocked locker at a community pool. As an adult who’s been to a whole bunch of pools, leaving my stuff unattended in a locker room is about as appealing as eating something off the floor at VooDoo Doughnut. [And I mean the original VooDoo with the entrance in the middle of the block, its lobby a little larger than a handicap restroom stall, dim verging on dark, trammeled by the foot traffic of a thousand doughnut-craving citizens and tourists and the occasional wedding party (only $250 for the basic wedding package!).]

I plunked our bags by a window between some other people’s stuff on deck. Perfect. Right out in the open where I still would not once remember to glance at them.

Time to take a cleansing shower. The sign said so. I don’t do this at my pool, but I’ll play their little game since I’m on their turf. Set a good example and all that.

At 3:40, a woman climbed the three steps to the guard platform and gained our attention. She asked the kids to turn up their listening skills before she recited the three rules of swimming lessons (no gum or Band-Aids, take a head-to-toe shower, and don’t get in until you’re told you can).

I thought to myself that, as someone who works with adult college students, it’s not just the small children who may need to turn up their listening skills.

She read from her roster the day’s lesson groups by child’s first name and their corresponding instructors and locations around poolside. By the third lesson group—all fish names, of course—none of our horde had moved. I guess this clued her in that she was reading from the roster for the next session.

Considering I have no idea what any of the fish names mean, I was waiting patiently trying not to miss Jacob’s name. The Connors and Esperanzas and Vivians rolled off her tongue and I dutifully listened to name after name.

After she caught her mistake, Jakey’s name came up for the first group of the 3:40 slot: Angelfish.

From instructor Caroline, we learned how to “get in the pool.” There’s more to it than you’d think.

Jakey and I nailed it and I soon held him above two and a half feet of 84 degree water. This is when he began looking longingly toward the pool deck and saying, “All done. All done.”

His voice never rose to pleading, but I estimate he said “All done” roughly 250-300 times in the first ten minutes.

Everything improved after that. We learned that each class will begin and end with songs. That leaves a few minutes in between during our half hour lesson for whatever the meat of the lesson turns out to be. Today the meat was wading around listening to my water-shy boy say, “All done” as he clutched a small rubber ball and a tiny plastic watering can.

I think about how tremulous I felt about the whole thing even though I’ve been to just short of a zillion pools. Plus, I’m almost positive I won’t drown in the shallow end or even the deep end, should it come to that. Jakey is still in that state where almost every outing shows him hundreds of new things and a trip to a weird pool has got to carry a lot of new with it. How can I blame him for his ambivalence?

I just want for him to one day love the water like I do and to feel comfortable, even confident as he swims.

I have to say, the songs helped.

Motor Boat left him nonplussed, but the other one got him giggling. Here’s the thing, I have no idea what the song was.

Our instructor—a recent college grad and 8-year Portland Parks employee (and chatty)—told us the name (maybe Baron Somebody’s Something-or-other) and then told us, “My parents grew up in the 60s so everything I learned had kind of a Star Trek twist put on in. So my version of this song does, too.”

I know we bobbed in a clockwise circle and that Captain Kirk was beaming someone up and then down. I could not keep pace with the other parents—veteran swim lesson customers each—as they raised their babies on the word “up” and lowered them in unison on the word “down.” I was too busy pondering why Captain Kirk and not Scotty was doing any beaming in the first place. That and trying not to drop my wet son who was, thankfully, no longer claiming he was done with swimming lessons.

He was laughing his loudest laugh and pistoning his legs with glee each time I lifted him skyward a little later than the other parents.

His happiness spilled over to me.

The thing about being a parent is you have to get used to learning that sometimes “all done” doesn’t mean all done.

Sometimes it means, “Dad, I’m not so sure about this. It’s pretty overwhelming and I just need you to know that. As long as you’re here with me, I’ll ride this out and see what’s up with this swimming lesson thing.”

Sometimes it means, “You better not drop me.”

I hear you Jakey. I’ve got you.

Tony Hawk and Barack

I am walking out of New Seasons market when I pass two boys, about ten or eleven years old, milling around out front by a column. I’m carrying the eggs I bought hurriedly on my lunch break.

Both boys have skateboards and are loitering in the truest sense of the word. One holds a bottle of Pepsi. He’s wearing a stunning shirt tiger-striped in black and fluorescent green. It’s jungle safari meets psychedelic Jimmy Hendrix poster.

I overhear this boy say to his friend, “It’s impossible to be Barack Obama. Like, almost impossible. Tony Hawk is way more likely.”

I wish I could become invisible. I would stop in my tracks and hear where a conversation like this is headed.

All the way back to the office I will try to imagine. Does he mean that becoming a pro skater is much more conceivable than becoming president? I agree with that appraisal. Does he mean that becoming the most famous skater ever and having numerous video games bearing your name is also way more likely?

Alas, I remain wholly visible and stopping to eaves drop will stick out. I keep walking, though I do steal a glance back over my shoulder. Dying to hear the rest. I will the boy to expound on this thesis in a way that makes these two men’s juxtaposition clear.

This may be the first time Tony Hawk and Barack Obama’s names have been mentioned together in this context.

Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Favorite Places part I—Grapes of Calm

Grape arborRipened, sun drenched grapes sag on full vines above my head. Hundreds more pepper the ground, burst open with juices running into the soil.

Their perfume conveys so much sweetness I stop to savor breath after deep breath. This could be what people mean when they speak of drinking something in when they don’t actually mean drinking. That smell. Fresher, more lush and grapey than I imagine grapes can smell.

It is early afternoon on the first day of fall and I stand under the grape arbor near the estate pool on campus. This area is home to some of the best scenery on what is regarded as one of the most scenic campuses in the nation. I come here all the time and I always try to take in the landscape on my walks to and from the outdoor pool.

Most days it still feels a little like work. That’s probably the work talking. I know that the turnaround point on my out-and-back stroll is a small, loud room with pump, filter, chlorinator, chemicals, valves, and a little mesh basket filled with wet hair and fir needles, gum, and the occasional hair band, nickel, or lost Band-Aid.

That distracts me for starters. And the fact that we can become accustomed to beauty. It can take something particularly arresting to jostle us back out of the complacency and preoccupations of life.

Today those somethings are grapes. The arbor’s vines hang ten feet in the air dry and bare much of the year before bursting forth with green shoots and then bright fruits.

It’s the time of year that people sometimes relocate the picnic tables to the patio beneath the arbor so they can stand atop the table and reach the grapes. Last time this happened, I used the same table to climb up and sample the crop.

They don’t taste as good as they smell, but the juice is still delicious.

On a warm September afternoon I can lose myself—just for a moment—in the aroma and beauty. This arbor is as good a platform as any from which to step into the world of pool pumps, chlorine, and tangles of wet hair.

A better platform than most because when I emerge from the dark bath house the grapes will be here, dangling above and strewn below, split and radiating their sweet smell on a warm breeze.

And I will let them overtake me again.

Rhythm is a baby

I’ve been teaching Jakey to beat box.

He can make a few different sounds.  His best one is the cymbal noise I’ll describe as “tssch.”  He’s still working on the bass sound that goes something like, “Pbfff.”

His tiny lips purse and twist as he works for each noise.  Satisfaction pouches out his cheeks in a grin when the sounds come out.

This is one more thing we can add that to our list of adorable toddler tricks.  He will say also the words “beat box” when prompted.  Again, a winner.

YouTube stardom is not on the horizon this week, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it was far off.  This kid is rad!

All of this might seem to imply I hold some proficiency in beat boxing that I do not.  No matter.  It’s never too early, or late, to learn and no one else is teaching my son these important skills.

When I dropped off him at daycare this morning, I said to Miss Christine, “He was working on his beat boxing in the car and if he keeps at it, you should be prepared to reinforce it.”

She nodded feigned understanding.

I drove to work secure in the knowledge that Jakey is learning the life skills he will need to thrive in this world.  This is all a father can hope for.

Literary Regret, Literary Promise

Have you ever read a book that blew you away so completely that you wondered how you got by in the world before that book existed or before you read it?

Take your time answering…

If yes, then try this neuroses on for size: After completing this life-altering, genre-bending masterpiece, does a certain melancholy creep in not only over its conclusion, but because of the sense there are likely dozens—even hundreds—of other books out there that might impact you that you just don’t know exist?

Told you.  We literary types can get a little bit up in our heads.  That’s okay, lots of other people go plenty nutty, too.  Without the aid of any literature whatsoever.

It’s my soft side that laments books undiscovered and unread.  Luckily the optimist wins out and leads me ever back toward Powell’s, Annie Bloom’s, countless airport kiosks, book recommendations from friends, and still other authors at the recommendation of writers I love.

The chance to be blown away by your next book is always just around the corner.

So this is the new year

More or less made it to the new year last night, but only just.  We stayed up “late” by watching a movie and heading for bed at 10:00pm.  We’ve been on sleep triage lately trying to get to bed soon after the baby.  This was an exception.

I read until about 11:50 and fell asleep.  I got to ring in the new year when neighborhood fireworks woke me soon after.  I listened to the booms and cracks in a sleep-sodden state of half confusion and half concern for the sleeping baby.  Luckily, he and his mother slept right on through the ruckus.

Woke up to 2014 this morning with the U2 song “New Year’s Day” in my head.  Just the chorus, really.  Great song, but I was just turning the chorus over and over.

Luckily (?), a little later in the morning I ended up on the Death Cab for Cutie song “The New Year.”  Again, just the chorus: “So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different.”

Not quite the case, though.

I like new beginnings and rolling the year over another digit.  I enjoy the idea of resolutions and reframing.  As a college swim coach, starting the new year kicks our season into high gear.  Our team put in a lot of work in late 2013 and now we have the six-week run up to the Conference Championship.

That 14 at the end of the date brings immediacy.  It tells us we’re just about there and that big excitement is ahead.

Heather suggested we go out for breakfast.  One great thing about the baby schedule of early rising: we beat Portland’s breakfast/brunch crowd when it comes to the must-eat restaurants that are hard to get into.  We ate at Zell’s on SE Morrison.  Only one other couple under 40 in the place.  Most of Portland’s hip younger set still tucked into warm beds or sprawled festively on couches somewhere about the city, the night’s revelry still fresh.

Not we new parents, though.  Not us.  In truth, we were already prime candidates for this schedule, considering we didn’t go out or stay up super late pre-Jakey, either.  Don’t take anything I’ve said as implying we are part of Portland’s hip younger set.  The fact I refer to it that way in the first place should brand me something different.

I read an article about resolutions last night suggesting that maybe January 1 wasn’t the best day to leap into a new regimen.  Coming off a couple stressful, discombobulated weeks in December and all.  For most of us, isn’t it pretty discombobulated from Thanksgiving onward?  Really gets a person ready to ring in the new year and settle back for some routine.

I am for new year’s resolutions.  Taking any time to reframe and focus in on goals is a great idea.  Daily drive to make progress is the key, so setting these goals at the start of the year is as good a time as any.

I am also for follow-through.

Set the goals, move toward them, set new goals.  It’s serial more than linear.  There needs to be responsive reevaluation along the way as well as continuity.

Then it’s worth resolving to do this or that.

So this is the new year.  Make the most of it.  Happy 2014!

Come in

Welcome. 

I bid you good morning or good evening.  Or even good afternoon, if that is the case.  Thank you for joining me here today.

Shel Silverstein begins his book Where the Sidewalk Ends with a poem called “Invitation.”

It goes like this:

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .

 If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

This is my own invitation to you.  Join me for a time.  Join me in thought and reflection.  Travel places with me.  Learn from me and teach me something in return.

I have my copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends right beside me on a TV tray next to my end of the sofa.  This TV tray has held no food in countless months, but it makes a nice pedestal for favorite books and letters heaped high.  Magazines aplenty.  And remote controls for TV, Blu-Ray, stereo receiver, and Dish.

All the things that draw a person’s attention away from writing, thinking, creating, relating.

This particular classic left the bookshelf for its tour of the living room after my son, Jakey, was born.  We tried to read to him every day from his first crying, sleeping, eating, crying, sleeping days.

Children’s books are great…

But, I soon found my own attention could not last reading and rereading the same short books to an infant with almost no attention span of his own at all.  Out came Shel Silverstein.  Down from the shelf came volumes of Robert Service poetry and my complete works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Rhymes, creativity, depth and form.

Works of language masters flowed between my lips and his small, perfect ears.  We covered other masters, too, like Fox in Socks and a short foray into Shakespeare’s sonnets.  I found the latter proved too taxing when I tried to manage my impassioned iambic pentameter and still keep the lolling, fussing baby on my lap.

The baby is asleep.  For now.  His ghost-white head gleams at me from the screen of his video baby monitor (placed so conveniently on another TV tray).

I’ve spun tales and dreamed words for many years.  What I hope will grow from here forward is a home for some of this spinning and dreaming.

Thank you for joining me.

Come in…